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Montgomery College cricket team to defend national title

Montgomery County students are prepared to defend their title a year after winning the American College Cricket Spring Break Championship.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 14, 2010

Last March, the Montgomery College men's team handily beat four other schools to win the first American College Cricket championship.

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There was only one problem: The school had no idea it had a cricket team.

Despite the college slogan, "endless possibilities," national titles are hardly commonplace at Montgomery, which has more than 60,000 students on its campuses in Rockville, Germantown and Takoma Park. But officials didn't realize that their own school was a cricket powerhouse until some weeks after the tournament, when English professor David Lott read a newspaper article about the championship. He alerted the administration, which didn't exactly shower the team with support, leading Lott to agree to serve as the team's faculty adviser.

The cricketers were accustomed to doing things on their own. The 11-man squad -- business and computer science majors who had played the game as kids in India and Pakistan, countries where cricket is followed with near-religious devotion -- resolved to go to the American College Cricket Spring Break Championship in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after learning about it on Facebook. The students paid their own way.

Captain Adil Bhatti, 22, had to borrow money to cover his expenses and the $400 registration fee. Most of his teammates had played together or against one another for years before enrolling at Montgomery College's Rockville campus, starting with pickup games on county tennis courts and in parking lots around Rockville and Gaithersburg.

After beating the University of South Florida team to win the title, the Montgomery teammates celebrated at an Indian restaurant near their hotel. Dessert was on the house. The three-foot-tall trophy rode home in the back seat of a Honda Accord, with players taking turns holding it on their laps over the course of the 20-hour ride.

The cricketers will return to Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday to defend their title. This time, they will represent Montgomery as an official school club against a field of 18 other colleges.

On a campus where the students hail from more than 175 countries, in a region with enough cricket-loving immigrants to support several well-established leagues, Montgomery is a natural to produce a competitive team, and cricket may yet prove to be a source of school pride and cohesion.

The college doesn't supply a coach, uniforms or even a field, but over the past year, word of the cricket team has slowly spread across campus. Community college athletics is a far more modest endeavor than the big-time sports found at four-year schools, where a winning team can mean huge crowds, big bands and hefty gifts from alumni.

But Bhatti said he was surprised when a cashier at the campus bookstore told him she had heard about the team's win in Florida.

A second championship title could raise the team's profile on campus even more, said college spokeswoman Elizabeth Homan. And perhaps ensure more school support. Cricket still doesn't qualify to be an athletic program because the sport is not affiliated with groups such as the National Junior College Athletic Association.

The school didn't kick in for uniforms, but the players will sport the college logo on their crisp shirts and trousers, along with a plug for an energy drink for cricketers.


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