Bowling Them Over on the Cricket Field
Alisa Strayer ’13 runs toward the wicket with the abandon of a bull at Pamplona, her last few steps a series of skips and hops. As she flings the cricket ball, though, it goes slowly upward in an arching loop, not unlike the famous Eephus, the unhittable, low-speed pitch invented by baseball great Rip Sewell in the 1940s. The ball bounces in front of the batsman and he gives a mighty swing, slow as the toss seems, but it goes right past him.
“I have a flighty ball, which is what they call it—high in the air,” says Strayer of her signature bowl. “It bounces and the guys don’t have enough patience, so they swing ahead of it. It is a silly skill, but it works.”
Haverford cricket coach Kamran Khan says he has had about 15 or 16 women players over the more than 25 years he has been at the helm of America’s only collegiate cricket team (and the College’s only coed varsity team), but none have been as good as Strayer.
“She is the best bowler we have,” says Khan. “The guys all agree that she has definitely been an important part of the team.”
Strayer, who grew up in Los Gatos, Calif., came to Haverford cricket quite by chance. A friend she made in her first weeks at Haverford, Sameep Thapa ’13, who had played cricket in his native Nepal, said it might be fun if she came out for the team, knowing it did not at the time have any female members.
“It just seemed like something new to try, and I like trying new things,” says Strayer. “My mom would probably say I like random and obscure things, but I just like having new experiences and meeting new people.”
Her first days on the cricket team were a bit disconcerting, though. Since she hadn’t played before, the coach sat her down on the sidelines to watch. “I think he was scared I would get hurt,” says Strayer. A cricket ball is hard, and fielders don’t wear gloves, except for the wicket-keeper (a rough equivalent of a baseball catcher), who wears two.
“Eventually, I watched the people bowling and I thought that was really cool,” she says. “I was getting bored at practice, so I started asking the guys how to do it. I started bugging the coach about it a lot,so they kind of taught me a little.”
Since most cricket bowlers either pitch with “pace,” cricket lingo for “speed,” or spin off the grass, Strayer’s looping slow bowls throw the batsmen out of whack. Late in the season, against the Royal Automobile Club team, she got a “hat trick,” which is getting three consecutive batters out—a significant accomplishment.
“I don’t know how long it has been since we had a hat trick,” says Khan. “[That] shows you how good Alisa has been.”
The Haverford team plays club teams from other colleges, but just as frequently competes against teams based out of country clubs. That skews the age of the players (who can range up to 60), and may be their lack of acceptance of a woman playing against them, says Strayer. (Freshman Rina Ntagozera, who played on a women’s team in her native Rwanda, has also played off and on for the Haverford team this year.)
It is not so much that they razz her, Strayer says, but that they are sometimes condescending, expecting that she won’t be any good.
“They cheer for her, and [they] don’t do that for anyone else,” says teammate Danny Rothschild, a sophomore from Evanston, Ill. “I think she would rather
everyone treat her like another player, but then she ends up getting [players] out all the time. It comes back to haunt them.”
Strayer somewhat duplicated her Haverford cricket experience on the squash court. She had never played squash (she ran cross country in high school, but not spectacularly, she says) when a friend encouraged her to come out for the team. In her sophomore and junior seasons, mostly playing down in the line-up, she led the team in victories. In her senior season, she was a finalist for the Wetzel Award, given by the College Squash Association to the best collegiate player who took up the game in college.
Outside of athletics, Strayer, a psychology major, helped start an after-school program for children living near campus who have autism. Though she initially rebelled against psychology because both her parents are psychologists, she found she would use what she had learned from her parents in early classes. “I decided not to fight it anymore,” she says. She hopes to find work in the field of counseling in New York after graduation.
But she will probably be hanging up both her cricket whites and her squash racquet.
“I know there will be a team somewhere, and probably opportunities to play squash,” she says. “But since I always look for new things, I will remember all the good times I have had with the teams, and I am sure I will find something I will like to do.”
-- Robert Strauss