The Homies At Home

From bullets to balls/ From Gats to bats/ From streets of concrete/ To grass and mats/ That's Cricket.

Ted Hayes is one of those people you notice as soon as they walk in the room. A six foot four tall middle aged man with greying dreadlocks and twinkling eyes, he is unlike anybody we've met before. He is also a unique presence within US cricket in that he has attempted to do something unprecedented - build up a hub of support for the game in one of the harshest urban environments in the country, South Central Los Angeles.

Many of the people we've met on this journey say that they are on some sort of mission regarding cricket in America, but no one exudes that missionary zeal quite like Hayes. On our most recent visit to meet him he was on irresistible form. "We will become known in history," he says of his team, the Compton Homies and Popz. "They will read books about us 100 years from now - should the messiah allow it - about how we were the fathers of the revival of US cricket and the revival of global cricket when it becomes the biggest sport in the world, dwarfing soccer and all other sports."

His is the most unlikely of stories - how a homeless activist caught the cricket bug and ending up travelling round the world with a bunch of street kids, rubbing shoulders with dignitaries from Gerry Adams to Prince Edward, legends like Shane Warne and Brian Lara. But whilst it is Hayes' passion and tenacity in the face of adversity has pushed down many barriers for his team, that same stubborn streak could well see his dreams and hopes for his team ultimately thwarted.

Hayes's background is in street politics. Though he had and indeed still has a finger in a great number of pies, he is probably best known for a project known as Dome Village, a collection of geodesic domes located in the heart of downtown LA. This was set up in 1993 as a kind of halfway community, where homeless men and women gradually learn how to re-integrate themselves into society before moving on to find homes of their own. Hayes, a man who has never strayed far from the front line, had deliberately made himself homeless when he founded a prototype version in 1985 and he both lived and worked in one of the Village's domes from 1993 until the project closed in 2006.

Cricket came into his life through his partner, Katy Haber. A flame-haired English ex-pat who had worked with Sam Peckinpah on his movies, Haber knew of a team of Brits working in Hollywood called the Beverley Hills CC. It transpired that on a fine day during the summer of 1992 they were a man short for a weekend game, Katy was called to see if she knew anyone who could fill in. Somehow she persuaded Ted, a man who only knew the word cricket as it related to the insect species, to be the 11th man at the 11th hour.

Rappers "From bullets to balls/ From Gats to bats/ From streets of concrete/ To grass and mats/ That's Cricket." Theo and Isaac Hayes perform the Compton Cricket Rap.

Ted today describes his debut in almost mythic terms. "I remember they saw me stroll in. This English fellow comes up to me and asks (genteel English accent) 'excuse me, do you bat or do you bowl?' I'm thinking ''bowling? What's that?' I realised later that they thought that I was a West Indian pro who had come to hang out with them for the day.

"So I played the field like a baseball player. They liked my hustle; I got into bat and actually got 6 runs that day. The first time I hit the ball, I did what every American does - dropped the bat and ran to first base."

Ted was instantly hooked. For him it wasn't just the air of mutual respect that intrigued him but the way the game seemed to hark back to some sort of pre-industrial idyll: "What it really was about was the etiquette. Hence the whites, indicating a state of purity - the purity of the sport, the purity of the village, what civilization should be."

"From what I understand real cricket is not the stadium game that is played today trying to look like baseball. Real cricket was a village sport; a social sport designed for fathers and sons to play on the same team together, one village against the other. It was hard competition, but more than that it was the desire to help each other to be better people, at the workplace, at the farm, children towards each other, at schools. That is what it was designed for - to civilise and maintain stability in the village."

A lightbulb went off above Ted's head. Why not form a Dome Village cricket team? This could be a vehicle to give the men who passed through its doors a direction, a tool that would equip them for the challenges they faced re-entering society. Never one to prevaricate when gripped by an idea, Hayes roped in members of the Beverley Hills team and South California Cricket Association (SCCA) to start training the team he was calling the Justiceville Krickets.

Corralling a group of homeless men into a functional cricket team would not be easy but Ted had a high profile round LA (he ran for mayor in 1993) and Katy's Hollywood contacts would prove to be invaluable. The Krickets received an early boost when a group of dignitaries representing the business communities of Southampton and Bournemouth passed through Dome Village in 1994. Having heard about the team, they arrived bearing a bat as a gift and the promise that should they ever come over to the UK, a game could be arranged at Hambledon. Naturally, Ted took them at their word...