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Cricket World Cup spurs interest for the game among Americans

Cricket World Cup spurs interest for the game among Americans

Nassau County International Cricket Stadium. (Courtesy Mrinali Dhembla)

By Mrinali Dhembla

June 14, 2024

My family left India in the 1980s and moved to New York during what was a tumultuous time for Sikhs—a religious minority from the northern Indian state of Punjab. 

And as my grandparents and both my uncles left home to seek a better life here in America, they also left a big piece of their culture and their hearts: A sport called cricket. 

My uncles don’t even recall the first time they held a bat, or learned about cricket. 

“It’s just a rite of passage, every Indian kid just knows what cricket is,” my uncle, Gurpreet, said. “A particularly fond memory is when India won the World Cup against the West Indies in 1983,” he said, recalling that he was maybe 8 at the time, and already a cricket fan.

And just like my family, I don’t remember when I was introduced to the world of cricket. All I remember is my mother preparing special dishes, and inviting cousins over to have cricket watch parties—like the Super Bowl, but it happened more than once a year at home in India.

The bat-and-ball game invented by the English enjoys much fandom (or might I say obsession in former British colonies, including India), so much so that in India, many people call cricket a “religion.”

So, more than 30 years after my uncles bid goodbye to their pack of friends they’d play uninterrupted cricket with for hours every day after school in India, we went to watch a live International Cricket Council Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 game in New York on Wednesday.  

When I moved to New York City for college in 2016, I would see my South Asian and Caribbean neighbors play local matches at playgrounds, in tennis courts or in their backyards a lot of the time. And thanks to those local efforts by families in NYC, the city just hosted its first ever varsity cricket league called the Public Schools Athletic League Cricket.  

“I wish I could watch more live games,” my uncle said, as he saw some of his all-time favorite Indian batters smash fours and sixes (I’ll explain that later) in the game played between the US and India. 

As my uncles sat down amidst a crown of 34,000 at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Long Island in New York on Wednesday, what we witnessed was nothing less than a historic moment. Scores of families had come with multiple generations, with many parents coming in support of India, while their American-born children happily cheered for the US.

The world cup that commenced on May 14 is being hosted jointly in the US—in Dallas, Fort Lauderdale and NYC—and the West Indies, and it’s gaining much furor among Americans as team USA, which made its T20 world cup debut this season, is putting up a strong front against veteran cricket teams like India and Pakistan. The final will be played in Barbados on June 29. 

What is cricket though? 

Cricket is a bat and ball game, which is played between two competing sides with 11 players each. The sport was invented by the British, possibly as early as in the 13th century, but was established as a formal sport in the 18th century

The rules are simple, with exceptions as they come and go: a batsman and bowler play across from each other in a rectangular strip in the center of an oval field that can be between 137 to 150 meters. The batsman has two goals: to score as many runs as possible, and to stay in the field for as long as possible. 

Two batsmen stay at two ends of the rectangular strip (called a pitch), while a bowler will serve a ball to either of the two depending on who is on strike. As one of the batters hits the ball, the ten other players from the opposing team will run around the field to catch the ball to block the batter’s runs or try to get him out.

The batter scores runs by either running to the other end of the pitch (for one run each time), or hitting the boundaries of the oval field—four runs if the ball rolls on the ground and hits the boundaries, and six if it flies into the air and goes beyond the orbit of the field. 

The number of balls that can be served can vary across formats. Games can be 20 overs (each over consists of six legal balls) or 50 overs, or unlimited in the case of test matches. The current world cup is being played in a 20 over format. That’s why the name T20 (twenty-twenty). 

How does a team win? If the team that bats second is able to defeat the score of the first batting team chased, it wins! 

Cricket in America 

While cricket enjoys more popularity in other countries, America is no foreigner to the sport.

Cricket rules were formalized in America in 1754, after Benjamin Franklin brought over cricket laws from England in 1744. By the mid-1800s almost 10,000 Americans were playing the sport, with many more watching it. However, slowly the cricket fad died out as many people began calling it a sport for “girlie men,” or having issues with the way the sport was governed, according to Smithsonian Magazine

But thanks to the rising population of South Asian and Caribbean immigrants, cricket has seen a resurgence in America in the last couple of decades. 

The New England Cricket Club, hosts local tournaments and runs cricket coaching for adults and kids. In New Hampshire specifically, four local men’s teams—Manchester Avengers, Manchester Royals, NH Super Strikers, and Manchester Kings—play matches against each other in the New Hampshire Cricket League and host practice sessions. 

And as America is a melting pot, it is no surprise that the present cricket team is a reflection of that fact. 

The US team is made of several cricketers of Indian, Pakistani, and Caribbean origin. At the top of the recent hubbub the American team has generated is Indian-born software engineer Saurabh Netravalkar, who is still an employee at Oracle, according to his LinkedIn. It was Netravalkar’s swift bowling that led America to victory against Pakistan’s cricket giants in Dallas last week

“Go back to Oracle, and let my team score,” my uncle yelled at Netravalkar jokingly from the field, as he got our favorite player, Virat Kohli, on his first ball. 

While team India called it a victory on Wednesday— it chased America’s 110 runs with a fair bit of struggle— I think it was a win for everyone, especially a win for cricket that is seeing revivalism in the US. 

I’d always heard that sports bring families and friends together. For me, it evoked sweet memories from my childhood, as I am sure it did for my uncles. 

“Never thought I’d see such cricket fever in America,” my uncle said. “It’s awesome.”

Author

  • Mrinali Dhembla

    Based in Manchester, Mrinali Dhembla is Granite Post's multimedia reporter. She's previously worked as deputy editor at The Keene Sentinel, and has experience writing for many national and international publications. When not doing journalism, she likes to cook food (and eat it).

CATEGORIES: SPORTS
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