The Colgate Scene
January 2005

Cricket ambassador

Senior Chris Burns, founder of Colgate's newest club sport, the cricket team [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

When Chris Burns '05 came home from Colgate's India Study Group last fall, he brought back more than just a few souvenirs.

He returned to the United States with an appreciation of a culture far different from his own, a wealth of life-altering experiences, and about 200 pounds of cricket bats, balls, stumps, pads, and gloves, which he donated to the university to start a club team. "Getting all that stuff through customs -- now that was an experience," he said, laughing.

Burns first became interested in the sport when he caught a cricket test match -- essentially a five-day tournament -- in the city of Chennai during his stay there in the fall of 2003. After seeing one day of play, he was so enthralled with the game that he watched all five days.

With the assistance and blessing of Asian studies professor and then-study group director William Skelton (professor emeritus), he spent most of his free time for the remainder of the semester learning the ins and outs of the sport, even going so far as to train with two Indian teachers and practice with local schoolchildren.

While Burns said the study group gave him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become familiar with culturally important elements such as the language of Sanskrit, the Bharathat Natyam dance, and Mrdangam drumming, he said his experience learning to play cricket opened his eyes to a whole other aspect of South Indian society. "I met people outside of the program, and I really got to know the culture and the people in ways that some of the other students didn't," he said. "The semester itself was an amazing experience, but this made it that much more incredible."

By the end of the term, Burns had decided to start a cricket club at Colgate. Since equipment for the sport is expensive and somewhat hard to come by in the United States, Burns told his relatives to forgo his Christmas presents for the year and instead send him cash so he could buy the gear in India.

Burns's parents -- alumni Steve '75 and Joan Wallace Burns '78 -- responded in kind. Not only did the couple donate to their son's informal cricket fund, but they also visited him at the end of the semester and brought his luggage and clothes home with them. Their son had to transport his cache of equipment alone.

Finding it too costly to ship the gear, Burns did what any enterprising college student would do. He packed up two enormous duffel bags and a carry-on bag full of equipment and took them with him on his flight back to his hometown of Silver Spring, Md.

The trip was anything but easy. Burns was pulled off a connecting flight in London because airline officials feared he was carrying bombs in his bags. (He quickly straightened out the misunderstanding.) And more than one attendant threatened to penalize him for checking luggage that exceeded the acceptable weight limit. "I talked my way through the penalties," he said -- no one levied any fines once they heard that he was bringing cricket gear to the United States.

Upon arriving in Hamilton in the spring, Burns enlisted the help of Kim Waldron, secretary of the college and secretary to the Board of Trustees, and Raj Bellani, dean of the sophomore-year experience, to help him get a club started. Soon he had a full team. "He came back from the India study group with this great love of the culture and cricket, and he just wanted to share that passion with people on campus," Bellani said. "It was all about bringing people of different backgrounds and experiences together."

Because of Burns's efforts, the cricket club now has about 15 members. The team practices regularly, and played two close games during the fall, both of which they lost. Several other match-ups were in the works, but all were canceled due to bad weather. As of press time, the university was investigating possible locations for a cricket pitch, which would allow the team to hold proper outdoor matches in the future.

Anand Kapur, a sophomore from Calcutta, India, and vice president of the cricket club, recalls his feeling of excitement upon receiving an e-mail urging students to join the team. "This is something I played growing up in India, so being part of the club kind of made me feel more at home here," he explained. "Plus, I got to share the game with people who have never seen it."

Burns's own passion for the sport has helped transform it into something more than a hobby. This past summer he played in a cricket league in Washington, D.C., and hopes to continue playing after he graduates. He also applied for a Fulbright fellowship, which would enable him to spend an academic year at the University of West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados studying how the decline of West Indian cricket can be used to evaluate the changing traditions of West Indian society. In the long run, he's thinking of pursuing a doctorate in colonial studies or Caribbean or South Asian culture.

Right now, Burns is just taking things one cricket match at a time. The team's record, he says, has definitely motivated the club members to get more serious and competitive. "We want to win very badly!" he said.

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