Cricketer brings his love for the sport to Korea
Owen Wibberley is from an English village of 3,000 where cricket is a focal point of the activities in summer, with three or four teams and training for children. His dream is to recreate that sense of fun and community here in Korea.
“I’ve been playing here for seven years and I can safely say I’ve met hundreds of people through cricket in Korea,” says Wibberley, who is the secretary of the Korean Cricket Association. “It’s just a great way to meet people and have a great time.”
Cricket is a bat and ball game, with two teams of 11 players. The objective is to score runs, which you can do by either running between a 22-yard wicket in the middle of the field or hitting out over the ground. Similar to baseball, you can be out if the ball is caught and you can be run out. You are also out if the ball hits the stumps, which are three sticks at each end of the 22-yard wicket.
The Korean cricket league started in the 1990s with four expat teams playing matches beside the Han River and at Seobinggo Elementary School near Itaewon. Today, the league has 13 teams, affiliate status with the International Cricket Council, and a new cricket ground in Incheon. Not all the teams have the same goals: Some are out to win, while others, like Wibberley’s, are more interested in the social aspects of the game.
“We are a social team, so we go and play a game and then go for a beer afterward. We’re just in it for the fun,” Wibberley says. “I was captain of a team that won the national title twice in a row, and it all got a bit too serious, and me and my friends who were playing in that team said, ‘We’re getting old now, let’s take it a little easy.’”
His team, the Seoul Exiles, welcomes anyone who wants to play, regardless of ability or prior experience with the sport. They play almost every Saturday from April to October (November this year) at one of two venues: Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon and Incheon University. Play starts at 10:30 a.m., but players sometimes arrive at 9 for a training session.
Irfan Ghafoor is one of the many Pakistani nationals in the KCA. He arrived in Korea 20 years ago and has been involved in the league from the beginning. Now a Korean citizen, he was captain of the first Korean national team that played in Australia for a Super 8 competition in Perth in 2001 and is now the league’s administrative manager. “If you want to learn something about cricket, we would love to have (you),” he says.
This year, Wibberley and league manager Edward Rimmington are starting an indoor winter cricket league. There are no indoor cricket grounds in Korea, but there are many indoor baseball fields, so they are looking to play there. Westerners and Koreans of any level are welcome, and they’re hoping to make it a social event by having dinner together afterward. They’re also aiming to encourage more spectators to join the fun.
“Make it a Sunday event,” says Rimmington, who started playing when he was 10 and now plays for Pacific Storm. “Watch your friend or come and play. Have something to eat, have something to drink while you’re out there.”
Also in the works is a junior cricket team for kids. Wibberley’s goal is to get 10 to 15 kids together a couple of Saturdays a month starting next year to show them the ropes.
“I’ve got a child, she’s only 2 at the moment, but when she grows I would like her to have the opportunity,” Wibberley says.
The biggest cricket event in Korea this year is the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, which started last month and ends on Oct. 4. Cricket is played every day of the games, and it’s free. The first eight days were for the women’s teams, while the last eight days are for the men’s. Wibberley was expecting the big guns to be Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and said he hoped the Korean team would do well, not only because he has friends on the team but also because a win would increase the profile of cricket in Korea.
Prospective players should sign up on the league’s Facebook page and “they’ll be snapped up instantly,” Wibberley says. “There’s not a better way to spend a sunny day than sitting lazing by the side of a cricket field, having a beer and chatting.”
Cricket terms to know By Owen Wibberley
Googly: When someone who normally spins the ball to the left, spins the ball to the right with the same action in an effort to surprise the batsman.
Silly mid-on: Someone fielding in a position right in the batsman’s face; silly because it is a dangerous place to be.
Box: Called a cup in baseball, it is to protect the crown jewels.
Golden duck: To be dismissed on your first ball.
Finger spinner: Someone who spins the ball with their fingers rather than with their wrists.
Barmy Army: The fantastic legendary England supporters who travel the world and sing songs. Best fans in the world.
Cricket Korea: www.facebook.com/groups/142523242496495
The Indian team has a website with a map of the SKKU cricket ground in Suwon: