Cricket finding a home pitch in the U.S.
HOST INTRO: Cricket is second only to soccer as the most popular sport in the world – though you wouldn’t know it in the United States. Some grassroots organizations are hoping to emulate Soccer’s rise to popularity in this country. My co-host Caroline Ballard reports.
Walk through the red door of The Cricketer’s Arms on Murray Street and you might think you’re in London.
Fade up door creak.
There’s cricket on the TV, and on the walls hang cricket bats, balls, paintings – cricket everything.
ROBERTSON: What people don’t realize over here is that Cricket is actually a world-renowned sport and the fan base is actually amazing. (0:09)
Scott Robertson is the co-owner of the Cricketer’s Arms. He grew up playing – and loving – the sport in England.
ROBERTSON: We’ve brought what we feel is something unique to New York that was missing and that’s a little bit of England. (0:06)
Cricket started in England, but spread to its colonies. Today the sport’s most devoted fan base is in South Asia, specifically India. Millions follow the tournaments there and the best players are major celebrities.
Yet here In this country, Cricket is almost invisible. Kids haven’t grown up playing the sport and few public schools have teams.
One organization is looking to change that: United States Youth Cricket. Founded by Jamie Harrison in 2008, it’s a volunteer organization that puts together youth leagues and donates cricket equipment to public schools.
HARRISON: And everywhere we’ve taken the game kids have fallen in love with it because its a very high scoring very offensive game. In a three hour cricket match the final score can be 180 to 150. So kids like that and the teachers appreciate that it also brings in some social studies aspects because it is the second most popular spectator sport in the world. (0:19)
It offers a bit of U.S history as well. It was the first colonial sport to be played here. It was edged out by baseball in the late 19th century.
Harrison – a former high school history teacher – got hooked after a field trip to a civil war battleground in Richmond. The battleground had a replica Cricket field and equipment since that’s what the soldiers would have played. Harrison tried his hand at the game and was converted.
Since then, Youth Cricket has taken Maryland from having no youth cricket teams to having a complete co-ed junior league. All along the Eastern Seaboard leagues have been growing, especially in communities with large South Asian populations. Now, Harrison says kids of all backgrounds are joining teams.
HARRISON: So it is a niche sport right now but that’s not going to stay that way for much longer. (0:19)
It’s a little like soccer. In the 1980s, few schools offered soccer. But after a generation grew up playing in rec leagues, it’s now a standard.
Cricket leagues may be growing, but there are still barriers. Even though US Youth Cricket gives away equipment to schools, its leagues don’t always have their own fields to play on.
HARRISON: And that makes it difficult in two ways, one it’s difficult to develop good players and two it’s difficult to convince parents of children who don’t already love cricket that this is a serious sport when you’re playing on a tennis court or the dirt of a baseball diamond. (0:16)
It’s hard to find a place to play. One of the biggest concentration of Cricket fields is in the Bronx, at Van Cortlandt park.
Scott Robertson, co-owner at The Cricketer’s Arms, met me there for teach me how to play.
Fade up greeting.
The field of play is wide and open, punctuated by a rectangle pitch in the middle, about 60 feet long.
ROBERTSON: And this is the pitch here..
BALLARD: and it’s like sand.
ROBERTSON: Yea it’s like sand. And um it’s called a crease.
The crease is like home plate.
ROBERTSON: So you stand inside your crease. Then when the ball comes you hit.
He throws it to me underhand.
Fade up hitting the ball.
Forgoing the usual overhand pitch for the newbie.
Almost everyone I talked to warned against comparing it too much to baseball. It’s its own sport with its own rules and intricacies. But I’ll give it a shot.
To score points, or runs, you hit the ball. The person throwing the ball is the bowler, and it’s their job to hit the wicket behind the batsman to the ground.
Fade up sound of hitting the wicket over.
There are twelve pitches at Van Cortlandt park. Robertson says Cricket here is about to get underway.
ROBERTSON: You see here all the pitches. So in the few weeks, hundreds of people will be up here playing cricket.
These fans, mostly South Asian immigrants, are a big target.
Earlier this month, ESPN broadcast its first live Cricket match on ESPN2. More than 2 million tuned in. Broadcasts like these could be part of making it popular.
PENNA: It’s making a statement to say that we think cricket is important and not just for the die hard fans. (0:09)
Peter Della Penna is a correspondent for ESPN-cricinfo, ESPN’s website dedicated to Cricket coverage.
PENNA: We think it’s important enough that the casual fans the general sports fans should get an opportunity to see some of this content. (0:08)
It’s an opportunity Aditya Mishra welcomes.
Mishra is a former professional Cricket player and he runs into teen fans all the time.
MISHRA: They’re just dying to really talk to someone who can explain what this sport is. And it just pains me as someone who loves the sport so much and is now a resident of this country. That you know it’s, it’s painful. There is audience. (0:16)
Mishra moved to the U.S. in 2004. He played for the U.S. national cricket team from 2008 to 2012, which is consistently ranked as one of the worst teams in the world. Before that Mishra played for India’s Karnataka club team, in Southwest India. There it’s a different story.
MISHRA: Cricket unites us. It’s a very diverse country. Multiple languages, there’s this caste system, religions, state boundaries. There’s lots of these things that divide this country. (0:15)
In the US, ESPN will continue to distribute Cricket. It owns the rights to live broadcast all International Cricket Council events, including the 2015 World Cup , through next year.
Caroline Ballard, Columbia Radio News.