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Jolly Good Show : Local cricketers team up to compete against a renowned club from England.

October 29, 1992|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The scene recently at the Balboa Middle School playing fields in Ventura was reminiscent of a painting by Seurat. Under the Sunday afternoon sky, distant figures wearing cream-colored T-shirts, trousers and sweater vests dotted the lush, newly installed cricket turf.

In the foreground of this scene was a lace-covered table set for tea, and laden with cucumber sandwiches, jam tarts, scones and strawberries and cream--requisite for 6 1/2 hours of cricket play. I half expected to see Bertie Wooster and Jeeves seated there.

Of the about 40 spectators nearby, six sat at another table recording each play while the real aficionados were sprawled in a hodgepodge of plastic lawn chairs, occasionally stirring with shouts of "Good hit. Jolly. Well done."

How proper.

How other-worldly.

This was Southern California, on Oct. 11, and this was no ordinary cricket match. It was the event of a lifetime for a group of local players, selected from six area clubs, who would face the real thing: a visiting squad representing the semi-senior team from the renowned Marylebone Cricket Club of Lords (MCC), St. Johns Woods, London. The MCC was on an 18-day, nine-match tour that had begun in San Francisco.

The MCC was established more than 200 years ago and is sponsored by Queen Elizabeth. The club's history is rich. In 1884 this exclusive and private organization for men wrote the Codes of Laws of Cricket, which continue to govern the game as it is played all over the world today. Before 1884, the MCC dress code required men to wear neckties and top hats on the playing fields. The phrase, "it is not cricket," referring to fair and gentlemanly conduct, was coined in the context of the game.

Bill Frindall, an MCC player, cricket broadcaster and statistician for the Guinness Book of World Records, said there are 18,000 club members worldwide, with a waiting list of more than 20 years for most positions at MCC. (Some younger players qualify sooner, however, due to their extraordinary ability.)

Enter Wally (Jay) Jayasinghe, a 61-year-old Venturan who is a computer systems field engineer and an avid cricketer. A native of Sri Lanka and a lifelong cricket player, the match with MCC was a dream come true.

Jayasinghe usually plays for the Santa Barbara Cricket Club, which was created in 1921 and, he says, is the oldest club on the West Coast. For the match with MCC, its last of the tour, he kept busy as host, coordinator and player. Jayasinghe's teammates were selected from the Ventura Cricket Club, the British American Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Barbara Cricket Club, the Victoria Pub Cricket Club, Hollywood Golden Oldies Cricket Club and Britamer Cricket Club.

For this event, he said, "I provided a wee little booklet, and in it I have explained the entire game, equating it to baseball so American readers can appreciate it and possibly understand the game."

Jayasinghe was the senior player among the cricketers, the youngest being 22. But the oldest person on the field was MCC's umpire, retired Capt. Jack Schofield, 66. (Among team members, however, he is rumored to be in his 70s.) Schofield, a former teacher and veteran of the Korean War, holds the prestigious Member of the British Empire designation for service to the Crown.

"Wherever the British went, they took their culture and games," said Jayasinghe. "So cricket is played in all the British colonies except America," he added. "And we pride ourselves on the fact that almost every player on our side is from a different country--South Africa, Sri Lanka, England, Jamaica, Barbados, India, Pakistan."

The host team accepted defeat with grace. "Since the MCC were so much stronger than us, we made a gentlemanly agreement that their stronger batsmen would retire voluntarily when each of them had 30 runs," said Jayasinghe. "But they still had about 175 runs. And we made close to 100."

Nevertheless, the event occasioned a personal triumph for Jayasinghe. "The challenge I gave them personally was to get me out. I didn't make too many runs, but they never got me out."

* FYI

For information about local or regional cricket clubs, call (805) 653-6555 or (805) 659-0934.

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