VAN NUYS — Hopeton Barrett was among few players who could afford a poor batting performance last weekend during a pair of cricket matches between the Western and Central U.S. zones at Woodley Park.
Representatives from the U.S. national team were scouting the fixture--cricket's equivalent of a game. Likewise, they will be watching teams representing the East and South compete later this month, after which the best players will be selected to represent the United States in an annual Labor Day weekend fixture against Canada in Toronto.
The winner takes home the K.A. Auty Trophy as champion of one of the oldest competitions in North America. The U.S. team also might participate in other international competitions during the year following the selection of the team.
Only a few national team members are native born, but several, including Barrett, are U.S. citizens. Rules require a residency of 270 days to qualify for the U.S. team and changes are anticipated that would require seven U.S. citizens on the 13-member team.
Barrett, a Jamaican-born bowler from Northridge, has been a mainstay on the U.S. team since he immigrated in 1988.
So, when his deep drive was caught on the fly shortly after he came to bat, Barrett was unperturbed. "It was an early departure," he said, shrugging. "There will be other chances."
As in baseball, the object in cricket is to hit a thrown--or bowled--ball and score the most runs. After a batter makes contact with a ball delivered by a bowler, two batters--if the ball is hit well enough or is difficult to field--run back and forth between wickets set 22 yards apart, each time accounting for a run. A batter can automatically score four runs by hitting the ball to the boundary of the field, six for a drive that carries out on the fly.
The bowler and 10 other fielders, positioned around what usually is an oval field, attempt to knock two short wooden dowels--the bails--off the top of the wicket's stumps, three stakes of even height.
If bails are dislodged or a batted ball is caught on the fly, the batter is retired and the team in the field is credited with a wicket. After 10 wickets, the side is retired.
An accomplished batter such as Barrett often will score dozens of runs before making an out. His departure after scoring fewer than 20 runs was unusual during an inning in which the West scored 212 runs.
Barrett was among several Woodley Park regulars playing for the West. Los Angeles, along with New York and Philadelphia, is among the top competitive areas in the nation.
Woodley Park, with three complete cricket grounds and two more scheduled to be opened in the next few years, draws many of the best players in the Los Angeles area. Barrett and Reginald Benjamin of Woodland Hills, another U.S. national team member, play weekly for the Pasadena Cricket Club, one of 12 Southern California Cricket Assn. teams that play home matches at Woodley.
Aijaz Ali, another member of last year's national team, plays regularly at Woodley with the Corinthian Cricket Club. All three played Sunday, trying to impress national team scouts.
Barrett, the West's opening bowler, redeemed himself during Central's innings, keeping batters off balance with his high-speed deliveries.
One batter completely missed one of Barrett's offerings, prompting a huge cheer from his normally sedate West teammates.
Barrett's bowling allowed the West to hold on to a 212-208 victory in Sunday's fixture.
"It was very close at the end," Barrett said. "We didn't expect it to be that tight."
Barrett's bowling skills make him a lock for the national team, the scouts said.
"He is very quick," said Leo Magnus, a selector from the Western Region. "He's very interesting to watch. He's got a lot of movement on the ball."
Several players were out with injuries when the teams started from scratch in Monday's fixture. Central was held to 65 runs after five wickets but recovered to score 259 runs.
The West, batting last and playing without Barrett or Benjamin, scored 136 runs with one wicket but finished with 252.
"A good bowler like Hopeton would have made a big difference," Magnus said. "He's the premier bowler in the country. We were surprised by the talent of the Central team. I think the West was too."
Once chosen, the national team will begin the qualifying process for the World Cup, an international event held every four years. The United States, which has never participated in the World Cup, narrowly missed qualifying last year.
Barrett, Benjamin and Ali traveled to Kenya last fall for a final qualifying match, against the United Arab Emirates, which the United States lost.
"It was one of the most-frustrating experiences I've had in cricket," Benjamin said. "We really do have the talent in the U.S. to compete. I don't know if it was inexperience on our part but we should have won, and we would be playing with the best in the world."
The United States was hampered against the United Arab Emirates because the fixture was played last winter, the off-season for most of the team. At Woodley, cricket season runs from April through November.
But the recent influx of foreign players means Benjamin and Barrett, along with other top players in Southern California, will maintain a higher level of competition during the season to prepare for the next Cup qualifier.
"The East is still a little stronger but the quality has gone up here the last few years," Benjamin said. "Players are starting to realize the importance of a chance to play in a World Cup. It means sponsorship and a lot of growth for cricket in the U.S. We have to be prepared."