The sumptuous sound of a cricket bat’s willow making contact with a red leather ball is common to many expats, but not so much for the foreign residents of tropical Cali. Cali, a city of salsa and soaring temperatures is a long way from the idyllic village green and cup of tea setting of sleepy rural England, but over the last few years a rag-bag, but dedicated, group of expats have gone from meeting up twice a month for a slogging session, to traveling to Bogotá for the Ernie Field Cup Match against the Bogotá Sports Club.
Sport is all about bringing people together and socialising in a common interest, albeit a competitive one, and this is no different in Cali. Every two weeks Team Manager David Muirhead sends out the usual email for the forthcoming weekend’s practice at Colegio Colombo Británico, and assuming the football pitch hasn’t succumbed to one of Cali’s monumental tropical storms in the preceding days, we meet with a hot afternoon sun beating down.
Teachers from England and Ireland, a mechanic from Guyana, agricultural researchers from the sub-continent, a few misfits from down under, and even a handful of Caleños are just some of the gang that slap on sun cream and bug repellent, ready for an afternoon of spin, swing and slog.
Whilst taking turns to bowl and bat, conversation revolves around either the upcoming or recently passed game against Bogotá, depending on the time of year, the persistent and petulant mosquitoes, or the unpredictable bouncing nature of the Colombo’s football pitch ‘wicket’.
After an hour or so under the sweltering sun a break is called and several cans of ice cold beer replace the traditional china cup of tea, and the school’s security guard wanders over to help with the customary group photo, which is mixed up with various Caleña wives, girlfriends and accompanying children. Village green style refreshments have made an appearance in recent months, next to the undulating Colombian football pitch, by way of Ike Isaksen, another Brit who has nestled himself into Caleño life and who has become very popular with his range of homemade sausages, chutneys and marmalades.
Some younger Caleños from less privileged backgrounds have also started attending with the help of Tony Williams, our resident Guyanan mechanic. He brings some of the raw, promising talent from his recently established cricket foundation and the club’s goal is to integrate them more into the actual team with coaching and mentoring, as it is a fairly big step going from playing with Tony’s hand made wooden bats and tennis ball in a local sports hall, to heavy willow, pads and hard leather with foreign language-speaking adults.
And so, as the shadows lengthen and sun gradually dips behind the cordillera, the day’s play draws to a close. Comments about a new player’s impressive eye for the ball and interesting bowling technique revert to older players talking about their aching limbs, younger ones discussing their forthcoming Saturday night on the town in Cali, or the possibility of everyone eating Sunday lunch at the restaurant equipped with a cricket net in nearby Rozo. And that’s what makes it such an enjoyable experience, different people, of varying backgrounds, from all over the world, coming together as friends with a shared interest, that of the wonderful game of cricket.