With an eye toward the growing ranks of local players, the New York City Department of Education established cricket this year as its newest varsity sport.
The game of broad bats and sticky wickets can be confusing for people raised on its distant cousin, baseball. But for people from places like Guyana, the Caribbean islands, India and Pakistan, cricket is a way of life.
"I've been playing for a long time," says Sohom Datta, a senior at Stuyvesant High School who was born in India and helped start his school's cricket team.
When families move to the United States, the kids often end up playing American sports like basketball and football in school.
"My favorite quote about that is that when Indian kids come to Britain, they're still cricket crazy. When they go to America, they forget about cricket," Datta says. "That stuck with me."
Now kids like Datta can play their favorite sport for their alma maters. In the varsity league's first season, 14 teams signed up from schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. Some 650 kids are taking to cricket fields — or grounds — around the city.
Like baseball, cricket features bats and balls, but there are no bases. Instead, the batters run back and forth between "stumps." The pitchers are called "bowlers," and they try to knock little wooden "bails" off the "wickets" — three wooden sticks stuck in the ground. The batter defends the wicket by whacking the pitch away.
Playing sports in New York City can require an unusual degree of personal sacrifice. Datta's team, for instance, recently played on a grounds far from Stuyvesant. To reach the game, players took a long subway ride from lower Manhattan to the Bronx. Then, they met up with their coach, who drove them to the contest near the approach to the Whitestone Bridge.
"It's the middle of nowhere, basically," Datta says, "so we devise our own means of transportation. ... We're trying the best we can with the resources that we have."
Many kids in the new league had never played cricket. Datta convinced Stuyvesant's starting quarterback and the starting point guard to try the sport. "They're [some] of our best players now," he says.
Ricky Kissoon, assistant commissioner with the Public Schools Athletic League, says cricket was a quick sell.
"The kids are in heaven right now," Kisson says. "It's something new to them. ... They still have a lot of work to do on their skills and so on, but that'll take time. It's the first year, and we're making progress."