Cricket Takes Root in Californian Soil

Cricket is experiencing a renaissance in California. With the flood of high-tech workers from South Asia, reports KQED's Jason Margolis, the old-world sport's leagues there are booming.

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And I'm Michele Norris.

There's a new game being played on the sprawling green lawns of Northern California--or, rather, a very old game has been resurrected: the English sport of cricket. Jason Margolis of member station KQED spent a recent Saturday watching a match in the city of Davis.

(Soundbite of cricket game)

Unidentified Man #1: Drop it in. Let's do. Let's do. Let's do.

JASON MARGOLIS reporting:

Cricket is less than ideal for the often near triple-digit temperatures in Davis this time of year. Games typically last five or six hours. Players bake under the midday sun elegantly dressed in long white pants and collared shirts. Still, these marathon matches are eagerly welcome by the players out here.

Mr. DAN SAHADEO: Cricket is a disease in our country. Everybody's playing back yard, side yard, street, wherever. We play cricket all day long.

MARGOLIS: That's Dan Sahadeo, the godfather of cricket in Davis. Originally from Guyana, South America, Sahadeo came to California in the late 1970s. Like most everyone out here, he's an immigrant from one of the cricket-obsessed nations, namely the former British colonies like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the islands of the West Indies and Australia. Twenty-five years ago Sahadeo says they could barely find enough players to field a team.

Mr. SAHADEO: In the olden days I used to be one of the key players in the team, and I'm not much of a cricketer. Today I barely make the team because the talent has grown and...

MARGOLIS: With the influx of computer engineers and high-tech workers from South Asia, Northern California has become a hot bed for cricket.

(Soundbite of cricket game)

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, man. Look at that. Did you see that?

MARGOLIS: Out here it's a unique scene, unimaginable back home: Indians and Pakistanis--their countries fierce political rivals--warming up and playing on the same team. When 27-year-old Jay Kashalikar arrived here from southern India four years ago, he says he was amazed at what he saw.

Mr. JAY KASHALIKAR: They were playing so easily. I mean, it was just one team. And then I got to know that he's Pakistani, he's an Indian, he's a Sri Lankan--that's really good to see. I mean, it's a good change, and I guess this is a nice example for people back home that, you know, if the game is important, then in all the nations...

(Soundbite of cricket game)

Unidentified Man #3: Watch him play. Watch him.

MARGOLIS: Cricket is similar to baseball: an imposing pitcher, or bowler in this case, tries to blast the ball past the batsman.

(Soundbite of cricket game)

Unidentified Man #4: Go, go, go, go, go!

MARGOLIS: The batsman connects with the ball, then dashes across the infield scurrying back and forth, back and forth with bat in hand trying to take as many runs as he can before the other team retrieves the ball--or he apparently passes out from exhaustion. For the cricket novice, it's positively confusing to watch. Just ask Bruce Solper, a retiree from Arizona who was passing by and stayed to watch the day's action for two hours.

Mr. BRUCE SOLPER: Listen to the BBC News at night and get to hear these cricket scores, and it's always been such a mystery that I thought it was only intelligent to find out what the game was about.

MARGOLIS: And have you come any closer to solving the mystery of what cricket is?

Mr. SOLPER: (Laughs) It's going to take more than one game.

(Soundbite of cricket game)

Unidentified Man #5: All right, guys, let's go.

MARGOLIS: While most of the players out here look like they're from the Indian subcontinent or the West Indies, there are some players that stand out--like Ted Fons from New Jersey. He picked up cricket 10 years ago, and while he's athletic, it's hard for him to compete with players who are practically born with a cricket bat in their hands. He bats at the tail end of the line-up.

Mr. TED FONS: It's not unusual for our team for some of the batsmen not to bat at all because we have very strong opening bats. So I haven't played in every game, so the games I have played in I've actually not got an opportunity to bat 'cause the openers just stayed there.

MARGOLIS: Is that kind of depressing to come out...

Mr. FONS: Yeah. No, not really. It's part of the game. You know, I mean...

MARGOLIS: And the game is catching on throughout the United States with leagues springing up from Florida to Seattle and Arizona to Michigan. For NPR News, I'm Jason Margolis in Davis, California.

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