Maasai cricket team want to knock rhino poaching for a six

9 September 2015

In a recent interview with News24, the captain of the Maasai Cricket Warriors Sonyanga Ole Ngais said their very unique African cricket team uses the sport as “a tool to spread social messages that are affecting our community.” The Warriors message is spreading globally in 2015, with not only an informal team tour that includes South Africa and Europe, but also in a documentary – executive-produced by English fast bowler James Anderson – that traces the origin of the team and their mission.

Warrior origins

The team, made up of Maasai tribesmen from the rural Laikipia region of Kenya, formed in 2009, after meeting a South African wildlife researcher Aliya Bauer with a passion for the game of cricket.

During her time in Laikipia, Bauer missed her favourite sport so much, she decided to introduce a fun, informal version of the game to the local community. “I was missing my passion and I just wanted to share it with others,” Bauer told CNN in 2013.

Together with local teachers, she gave lessons to school children. These early sessions also captured the imagination of the young Maasai warriors living nearby, watching curiously from the side-lines until finally some decided to try their hand at the game.

“It was the first time we saw this kind of a game, because in Kenya cricket is not well known,” says Ngais. “At the time, it was just fun, but as we went on playing and training, we found out that we were starting to love the game.” Bauer, who is now also the team’s coach, agrees: “Cricket is a fabulous medium to build friendships and to engage people in a positive way.”

For the team, the game came naturally, “bowling is a lot like throwing a spear,” says Ngais.

Last Maasai standing

Even without proper playing facilities, a shortage of funding and the absence of regular competition, the team and Bauer worked hard at mastering the game. The team entered the Last Man Stands (LMS) amateur cricket tournament for the first time in 2013.

LMS is a shortened format (even shorter and more fast-paced than the T20 game) devised by South African Wayne Greve, designed to entice and encourage amateur but passionate cricketers and anyone new to game. It is a gathering of some of the world’s best and most enthusiastic amateur teams, and is one of the ways the game of cricket is attempting to gain popularity outside its traditional regions, with teams from North and South America, Asia and, of course, the Maasai Cricket Warriors.

While the Kenyan team failed to win any of their games at their first LMS tournament in Cape Town, the team improved on its performance during 2014 in London, winning two of their games to reach the semi-finals of their group and getting the chance to play at the hallowed Lord’s cricket ground.

The games and exposure, Ngais says, is fun and exciting, but for the team, cricket is a lot more than fun, it is also a chance to tell the Maasai story to the world. The team also use the game to spread important messages to their compatriots: tackling social issues like poverty and illiteracy, and teaching health and welfare messages on HIV/Aids, female circumcision and gender discrimination.

The warrior cause

The Warriors use cricket as an educational tool to bridge between the old and the new. For the young team, there is an importance in communicating with the elders of the community, who sometimes fear the changes brought by the modern world, changes they feel may threaten the Maasai tradition and its existence. This wish to balance an established identity and heritage with the need for community development, education and a modern outlook, is something that resonates even in the game of cricket, where long traditions of play and etiquette in the game are threatened by new ways of doing things.

The game is a very powerful metaphor between the conflict of young and old, new and comfortable, tradition and new ways of thinking. And the Maasai Cricket Warriors – playing cricket in traditional dress – are trying to bridge those differences. Such has been the local response to the team, it has even inspired more Maasai to pick up a cricket bat and ball, including ladies and junior teams.

The Maasai Cricket Warriors are now tackling another African concern: rhino poaching and other illegal hunting.

The Maasai people are considered some of the best hunter-trackers in the world, but have always tried to pass on the understanding of the differences between hunting for survival and hunting for sport or pleasure. The team travel the world, explaining these differences and highlighting the scourge of rhino hunting and other illegal hunting, and the detriment hunting has on nature.

Warriors in South Africa

The team recently visited South Africa to play a couple of exhibition games at Johannesburg’s Zoo Lake field, against an invitational side made up of retired professional cricketers and enthusiastic amateurs. The games, while merely a fun get-together in the park, were enthusiastically supported by locals, and it gave the Warriors a chance to spread their goodwill and their environmental message.

The team and their tour were given some much needed exposure, even featured on the 702 John Robbie morning radio show. On the air, the team expressed a desire to take the game back into the wild, challenging a team to meet them in Kruger National Park for a game.

Once word of the plans got out, fans from all over South Africa and the world took to social media to express their excitement about the prospective game, even begging for it to be broadcast on live television.

Captain Ngais, in a post on the team’s Facebook page, wrote that the team appreciated the support and were eager for the game to go ahead. “We are ready for the game and we will give our best, we will use this as a platform to spread out rhino conservation messages to the whole world. We can’t wait for the official confirmation,” he wrote.

Speaking to News24 earlier this month, Ngais said the proposed plan to “play with cricket legends in South Kruger National Park.would be the best platform to raise awareness on rhino conservation in South Africa.”

South African National Parks department, though, say they do not know of any plans to play a game of cricket in the Kruger, but are keen to help. “No arrangements have been made with the park management regarding the cricket match,” SANParks commented on Radio 702’s Facebook post, while general communications manager for the Kruger National Park William Mabasa urged the team and its management to follow up on the proposed plan. “(The team) need to send us a request and we can take it from there,” he told News24.

Meanwhile, the Maasai Cricket Warriors carry on taking the cricketing world by storm, looking forward to their next Last Man Stands tournament in 2016, and continue giving the game a fresh and uniquely African twist.

Source: News24 / CNN