A cricket field of their own in Banglatown
Resident on mission to bring favorite sport to wider audience, teach younger generation
For Saiyed Ahmed and his friends, cricket is more than just a sport they play — it’s the fabric that holds their group of friends and community together.
It’s a way for newly arrived immigrants to find new friends after leaving their home country. It’s a dream for aspiring cricket pros to play at the national level. And for Ahmed, it’s a passion to raise awareness of his favorite sport that he played in his native Bangladesh before moving to Detroit in 2002.
In Banglatown, if residents wanted to play cricket, they would have to create a makeshift one on the parking lot and grounds south of the Knapp branch of the Detroit Public Library; at a one-day tournament on the Fourth of July, a string of multicolored foam rollers marked the boundary of the playing area, and farther infield there were two sets of stumps (called wickets) set up on the parking lot. And where there would be what’s called a cricket pitch — a rectangular, grassy area where the batsmen take a crack at balls bowled to them — is only concrete. (There are fields in the suburbs and a playing area on Belle Isle.)
Ahmed would see kids playing on the lot, sometimes falling and hurting themselves on the concrete. The lack of dedicated space to play in this neighborhood, which is home to a sizable Bangladeshi population, inspired him to advocate for one. It’s been a project of his for about a year and a half, says Ahmed, who eagerly embraced his role as a spokesman of sorts for his fellow cricket players and community.
His work paid off in early August with the arrival of a new regulation-size cricket field, located adjacent to the Lasky Recreation Center at the corner of Charles and Fenelon streets. It features a 12’ wide by 82’ long pitch with sports turf and surrounding 450’ diameter field of natural grass, according to Jeff Klein, park development manager of the General Services Department. The field replaced mostly open and unused space, and an unutilized baseball field was removed. There are also benches and picnic tables for spectators.
“We're very happy to have a cricket ground here and we're very delighted,” Ahmed says, adding many in Banglatown have been checking it out and it’s not just for playing; it’s become a gathering spot. “The other day, a few guys came here (and) they took selfies with the ground. This is like a picnic stop for (locals) … this is (where people come to take an) evening walk.”
"Looking at this cricket field maybe 5, 10 years I would not be able to play at that time. I'll be sitting out and watching the kids play and that would be a joy for me. So I'm just basically setting up for the future.”
Ahmed says cricket "a gentlemen's game," and it's similar to baseball. It’s played between two teams of 11 members each. There are two innings and one team tries to score runs by hitting a ball while the opposing team plays the field and tries to get them out. On the pitch, one batsman (called a striker) hits the balls that the bowler sends his way and the batsman takes turns with another batsman running back and forth between the two wickets. After all of the batsmen are out, the teams switch and the team to bat first now has to defend their score. Whoever has the most runs at the end of the second inning is the winner.
There are also several variations; it can be played quickly, like Ahmed and his friends did when they had a one-day tournament on the Fourth of July where matches lasted 30-45 minutes, or they can last several days.
The sport is a big part of the community’s culture, he says, and he and his friends play several days a week together. In his native Bangladesh, it’s on another level (“it’s on TV 24/7,” he says), with kids aspiring to play cricket when they grow up, like how kids dream of playing baseball or football here. Players like Yasin Rahin, one of Ahmed’s teammates who moved to Michigan from Bangladesh in 2012, have set their sights on playing nationally.
Ahmed is hoping to set up a mini tournament soon on the new grounds. At age 30, even though his playing days are numbered, he's happy for the younger generation, which is why the field could just be the beginning.
He is planning to host a cricket clinic to teach youths how to play and has enlisted the expertise of his cousin, Shaker Ahmed, who played in the Cricket World Cup in 2010, to coach. Eventually Saiyed Ahmed would like to start a cricket academy, not only to teach kids the sport but also to offer kids a safe space to play.
He's dedicated a lot of his free time and taken time off from work as a server at The Village Club in Bloomfield Hills to bring the cricket field to the neighborhood and raise awareness of the sport. But it's worth it to him. “A lot of people (have asked) me what do you get out of it?” he says. “I said, I get joy out of it, even though I take off work … even though I'm not getting any fame or anything out of it, I'm getting joy out of it. Looking at this cricket field maybe 5, 10 years I would not be able to play at that time. I'll be sitting out and watching the kids play and that would be a joy for me. So I'm just basically setting up for the future.”