Asia’s sport gains new fans in the U.S.

By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

Samarth Shah, from Microsoft Cricket Club, batting during a weekday evening practice session at Marymoor Park (Photo by Jason Cruz/NWAW)

Spring is the start of another season of bats, balls, and scoring runs. For some, it’s not baseball that’s on their minds. It’s the game of cricket. Cricket is an international sport with a rabid fan base. While the sport is very popular among South Asian players in the Northwest, it is trying to gain traction with the rest of Americans.

The laws of cricket

Cricket is one of the few sports where the rules and regulations are referred to as laws. Cricket is a bat and ball game played between two teams of 11 players each. One team bats while the other team bowls and fields, trying to dismiss the batter by knocking down sets of wickets (three tall stakes with two sticks lying on top) at either end of a 22-yard pitch.

The batter attempts to defend the wickets by batting the ball and scoring runs in the process. The object of the game is to score as many runs as possible, while dismissing members from the other team.

In limited play cricket, the team that scores the most runs and dismisses the most players wins.

The sport originated from British aristocracy and grew with expansion of the British Empire. South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh have huge cricket followings.

Local following

Jack Surendranath, a chemistry professor at Bellevue College, is a member of the Seattle Cricket Club (SCC). SCC is the oldest and largest club of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. The 74-year-old has been a member of the Seattle Cricket Club (SCC) since 1964. SCC has 50 to 60 active members, although not every member plays in the local league. Surendranath, a three-time former member of the U.S. National Cricket Team, continues to play every weekend in the Northwest Cricket League (NWCL).

Bhargava Kondapalli (from Microsoft Cricket Club) about to bowl in the nets in the mandatory practice session for weekend cricket games in the North West Cricket (Photo by Jason Cruz/NWAW)

Vishwa Gaddamanugu is a 36-year-old software engineer. He is a member of the Northwest Cricket League (NWCL). The NWCL has 120 members and 70 to 80 active members participating in league play. There are 22 teams that make up three divisions, each comprised of either seven or eight teams. The divisions are split based on skill level.

USA National team player Saurabh Verma (from Microsoft Cricket Club) bowling in the nets session at Marymoor Park Cricket fields (Photo by Jason Cruz/NWAW)

The NWCL leagues include four teams from Microsoft and two from Boeing. It also has a club in Pullman, Wash., and Oregon. The games are played every weekend from early May until the playoffs at the end of September.

Overall, there are 300 members involved in cricket in the Washington, Idaho, and Oregon region, according to Gaddamanugu. In comparison, the Bay Area has 1,200 members.

Local fields

Most of the games are played at Marymoor Park in Redmond or Magnuson Park in Seattle. Surendranath stated that SCC has had a good working relationship with the park department. Although it’s considered a niche sport, the fields for cricket have been kept up for play.

Gaddamanugu stated that in 2001, a cricket specialist was flown in from the United Kingdom to create a new pitch for Marymoor Park.

The cost

Surendranath stated that teams must pay $300 per game to the parks department. As a result, SCC members pay club fees to help with costs. “Club fees are probably $400 to $500 a year,” Surendranath estimated.

A cricket bat, which is an oblong bat with a short handle, costs around $400. Wicket balls are $15. “Because we are an organization, the league buys the balls,” said Surendranath.

In addition, there are gloves, shin pads, helmets, and uniforms.

The popularity

Cricket is the number one sport in India and Pakistan, with soccer being a distant second.

According to the Sports Business Journal, ESPN’s website, Cricinfo.com (a cricket website for enthusiasts), numbers of unique visitors surged to 8.8 million this past January during a popular international series of matches.

In April, the website traffic in the United States increased to 700,000 unique visitors. This is up 65 percent from last year.

Surendranath indicated that the Internet and the opportunity to watch cricket via pay-per-view through cable have put the sport in front of more people. The shorter twenty20 matches, which last only three hours, are gaining popularity among young viewers.

But it’s still not clear whether the following online and on television equate to players on the pitch. “You hardly see any domestic cricketers,” Surendranath stated. Many of the members of the SCC discovered the game in their native countries. According to Surendranath, most cricketers come from India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia, England, the West Indies, Syria, Bangladesh, and South Africa.

Surendranath believes that cricket is more popular across the border. Cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary have big cricket communities. This is mainly due to the South Asian communities in those areas that follow the sport.

Gaddamanugu agrees that the following is not growing among the American population. But he organizes cricket camps for children to pass along the game to a future generation. He notices that some of the children that come to the cricket camps have their American friends “tag-a-long.” Gaddamanugu remarked that there has been a surge in involvement from Asian and South Asian players.

Gaddamanugu has been in charge of cricket camps for a couple of years. His last camp had 20 kids, ranging in age from 9 to 13. Gaddamanugu is taking the program into schools. He recently taught cricket at Evergreen Junior High School in Redmond and has approached the Kirkland Park Department about teaching a cricket class.

Gaddamanugu stated that many kids are interested in the sport.

“Most of them like learning a new game and the curiosity of a new sport,” he said.

Surendranath believes that instructions from professional cricketers from abroad can boost the sport’s popularity among locals. “Once they have these professional cricketers come in and play on American ground, popularity will increase. The standard will increase and the competition gets better.”

Love of the game

Although cricket does not have a huge Northwest following, the people that play are very passionate about the game. Gaddamanugu almost gave up playing the game when he moved to Seattle in 2002. “I was told it rained all year round, so I gave up on cricket.”

But, a chance meeting with a friend put him in contact with the NWCL. He has been a part of it since.

“Cricket is an enormous sport you latch on to because you only need a bat and ball,” said Gaddamanugu. As kids, they would make makeshift wickets for their informal games. “We played in the streets,” Gaddamanugu recalled. He estimates that almost 90 percent of Indians have played some form of cricket.

“Cricket is not only a game or just a mere sport. Cricket, with its code of laws, has always been regarded as a strong moral educator.”

Gaddamanugu added, “It is an essential educational opportunity for youngsters to learn many essential ingredients of social behavior, including personal achievement, team cooperation, ambition, leadership, respect for leadership, respect for rules, respect for one other alongside of the recreational pleasure it brings into our lives.”

For more information on the Northwest Cricket League, visit www.nwcl.org.

For more information on the Seattle Cricket Club, visit www.seattlecricket.com.

Jason Cruz can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

One Response to “Asia’s sport gains new fans in the U.S.”

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