To the uninitiated eye, cricket’s charms are not obvious. The arguments against it are many—it takes too long, there are too many breaks in play, the written rules seem to be arcane and the unwritten ones takes years of toil to learn. But to the immigrant south Asian community who live and work in the Bay Area, none of these arguments matter.
The United States is the new frontier for cricket’s expansion. With its strong immigrant community interested in following and playing cricket, the potential to expand into an emerging market is immense. In part to reach out to this community, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) from London recently undertook a playing tour across the United States. Established in 1787, the MCC wrote the original laws of cricket and to this day, assumes the mantle of safeguarding the spirit of cricket and popularizing it across the world. With its headquarters at the magnificent Lords cricket ground in London, it periodically updates the rules of cricket and sends its members all over the world to play cricket.
Cricket’s popularity amongst the south Asians in the bay area wouldn’t be a surprise to many. What would surprise people though is the growing infrastructure for playing cricket in the Bay area. From Gilroy to Marin, in and around the valley to the Easy Bay, in school and city grounds, weekend warriors descend in droves to play cricket. They play is some established cricket leagues catering to a wide variety of skill level. From the seriousness of A-division cricket populated by former university and collegiate players to the more social nature of the lower divisions—there is something for everyone. In addition, there are numerous first generation Americans of south Asian origin playing in bay area cricket leagues. Some of them have gone on to represent the USA Under-19s and Under-15s in recent years
As part of MCC’s recent tour of the USA, Santa Clara cricket club hosted the cricket match between the MCC and North West Region team. Founded in 1987 and affiliated to the Northern California cricket association, Santa Clara cricket club functions with the objective of producing teams that consistently compete for the higher division championships every year while upholding the true spirit of amateur cricket. Santa Clara’s player ranks include Shiva Vashisht, the USA under-19 captain, Shantanu Divekar, captain of the Santa Clara I team and Sujesh Pulikkal, former coach of the North-west Region under-19s and current coach of the North-west Region senior team. These players were part of the North-west region team that took on the Marylebone Cricket Club at the picturesque Santa Clara cricket ground on March 21st
Batting first, MCC found run scoring difficult against the accurate left-arm swing bowling pair of Imran Khan and Hamza. The MCC openers Kamalia and Montgomery were back in the pavilion at the end of the 20th over when only 60 runs had been scored against the bowling quartet that included Shantanu Divekar and Srinivas .With Samarth Shah and Saurabh Varma stifling the run flow with accurate spin bowling, the MCC lost wickets at regular intervals. Saaqib Saleem, the USA under-19 leg spinner, inflicted further damage until the MCC folded for 112 in 45 overs. With good fielding and accurate bowling, the NWR had restricted a strong MCC squad to a less than par score.
The run chase was never going to be easy against the formidable MCC bowling attack. Against Friedlander and Bartram, the NWR openers, Majid and Nauman, were up against some bowlers who swung the ball at good pace. The openers negotiated them well with the emphasis on keeping wickets in hand while chasing down a low score. Shantanu Divekar, coming at number 3 and Srinivas at 4 contributed valuable runs as the NWR chipped away the score. With Nauman in sublime touch at one end carrying his bat through the innings, the NWR romped home in the 32nd over with 8 wickets to spare. It was a clinical all-round performance against a seasoned unit.
The Marylebone Cricket club’s visit was a small stepping stone towards Bay Area cricket reaching even further
heights. While the MCC is headquartered and plays its cricket in one of cricket’s most hallowed grounds, the North-west region representative team plays on Astroturf pitches in city and school grounds, sharing facilities with other sports. The disparity in stature and exposure couldn’t be starker between the players on both teams. Nevertheless, on a day when the North West region team had the upper hand, there were no gaps in skill level or enthusiasm for the game. Cricket is in good hands in the Bay Area. With its strong volunteer base, enthusiastic cricketers and strong administrators, cricket is poised to grow further and popular beyond the immigrant community.
Sunil Srinivasan is an electrical engineer who lives and plays cricket in the bay-area. He constantly wishes that his cricketing skills were proportional to his enthusiasm for the game.