If you had happened to have been driving through the Dallas suburb of Garland, Texas, this spring and had made your way over to a place called Bass Park, you might have seen something unexpected.
Kids are playing soccer and families are walking their pets, per usual. But look again, and you might see dozens of people gathering for a game rarely witnessed by Americans: Cricket.
“Cricket is already popular [in Texas], and it’s about to become very popular in the U.S.,” says Kumaran “Kenny” Thirunavukkarasu, a former professional cricket player who started the Texas Cricket Academy in 2013 to foster the sport in his adoptive state. “I love the game so much I cannot do anything else,” he confesses.
To many Americans, cricket is as mysterious as American football is to people in other nations. Historians believe cricket originated in England more than 400 years ago and spread to its former colonies, becoming particularly popular in South Asia and the West Indies.
The game is akin to baseball, with players running between spots on a field after hitting a ball with a bat. From there the similarities largely end. Regardless, cricket is loved by hundreds of millions of fans scattered around the world. And now that love is blossoming in the United States.
If all goes as planned, in the next few years there could very well be Major League Cricket in the United States, with teams in cities including Dallas, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The idea is to import professional players from other countries in hopes that, with time, more Americans will play at that competitive level, too.
For now, cricket remains most popular in cities with a large South Asian or Caribbean immigrant population. (Often, these are cities with thriving local tech economies.) Hemant Buch and his wife, Kinjal, started one of the first U.S. cricket organizations — the California Cricket Academy, a nonprofit — in 2003 in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to nearly half a million people of South Asian descent. The academy, however, is attracting a larger array of players, as it organizes programs in conjunction with municipal parks and recreation departments in places like Cupertino, California, the home of Apple Incorporated, the consumer technology company that makes the iPhone.
“We’re getting quite a lot of diversity,” Buch says. “I saw one lady at a game reading a ‘Cricket for Dummies’ book, which I didn’t even know existed.”
Both the Texas and the California academies focus on instructing children because, for whatever reason, young athletes tend to stick with the sport. Adults who are trying it often do not.
And cricket is not just for boys, the academies say. In fact, in July, the U.S. under-19 women’s team beat Trinidad to become the undefeated champions of the inaugural Cricket West Indies Women’s Under 19 Rising Stars T20 Championship.
It’s an old American story. Far from the stadiums and lights, immigrant communities bring their love of a sport to the United States and popularize it among their fellow citizens. Buch says he’ll see young people playing on the streets or in empty lots around the Bay Area, just as he used to do.
And Thirunavukkarasu says the older players in his academy have found the time and space to play in Dallas that they have always wanted. “They’re realizing their dream,” he says.
This article was written by freelance writer Tim Neville.