Cricket returns to the Commonwealth Games after a 24-year hiatus. The sport, last played at Kuala Lampur in the 1998 edition of the Games, returns with an eight-team women’s T20 event in Birmingham. In 1998, cricketers from across 16 nations participated, with South Africa winning gold over Australia, but the cricket itself wasn’t exciting. Hindered by poor wickets, hastily put together, teams would fail to post sizeable scores. For instance, Australia bowled out New Zealand for 58 in one of the semis. Eventual gold medallists South Africa were 96-9, chasing 130 against Sri Lanka in the other semi. While the cricket was insipid, the cricketers thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Rubbing shoulders with sportspersons from across disciplines, it was a unique melting pot for cricketers usually accustomed to bilateral tours and their own exclusive company.

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Former Bangladesh captain Aminul Islam recollects the days spent in the Games village with much fondness. Limited to associate events, it was a rarity for Bangladeshi cricketers of the time to mix it up with the game’s leading lights, let alone whole contingents of superstars from across sports. He remembers going for a haircut with Australian duo Steve Waugh and Gavin Robertson. A trip to the hairdressers was the least of his explorations. The platter laid out by the chefs in the Village – encompassing cuisines as varied as Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and English fare- introduced the batter to steamed salmon, a dish he’s been a fan of ever since.

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Indian pair Amay Khurasia and Gagan Khoda recall the conversations had with athletes in the cafeteria and the often long wait for caterers to refill the limited vegetarian fare available:

“It was a world full of beautiful sports, beautiful athletes and beautiful people. People would start biking or training at 5 in the morning. The commitment levels were unbelievably high. It was something to sit with such people and have your meal,” recalls Khurasia.

For the Zimbabwean cricketers, the Games brought them closer to sports they’d usually follow on the tele. Alistair Campbell remembers feeling star-struck in the presence of their favourite athletes or swimmers:

“You saw the people who you had watched only on TV – the sprinters, the swimmers, so it was peculiar from that perspective. You would walk past a big name and go, ‘hey, that is so-and-so,’ or ‘isn’t he the 400m record holder?’ and so on,” said Campbell.

The team would troop off in between training and after matches to catch fellow Zimbabweans in action. But for Campbell, the opening ceremony left a lasting impression. To walk out to a packed stadium as part of a contingent offered a rare glimpse into the charms of multi-sport events for the cricketers.

“We were ‘Z’, and Malaysia is very hot and humid. But when we did go in eventually, it was marvellous. You see it on TV but to actually go through it was terrific,” added Campbell.

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For the eight teams participating in Birmingham, it is likely to be a similarly heady experience. The Village, usually a hubbub of activity, will offer a new generation of cricketers a glimpse into the often throbbing vibe of multi-sport events. For the Indian team– having skipped the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games- the CWG 2022 offers a glimpse into what might be if cricket finds a place in the 2028 Olympics.