Going a Bit Batty over Cricket

Relatively few Americans pay attention to cricket's World Cup. But the San Francisco Bay area has a cluster of fans and 50 amateur cricket teams. A commentator finds great interest in the tournament there — plus tasty tea and pangol.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And before this month, for most of us the word cricket could have been a synonym for quaint British pastime, then the Cricket World Cup became the backdrop for a shocking murder. Hours after Pakistan's highly-rated team lost in an upset to Ireland, the team's coach was found dead in his hotel room. The Pakistan team returned home over the weekend while police reviewed security tapes from the hotel. World Cup play continues across the Caribbean until the end of April.

And in almost every country that once belonged to the British Empire, fans are following it passionately. By population, the largest number of those fans are not English, but South Asian.

Commentator Sandip Roy tells us just how devoted are cricket fans in the San Francisco Bay area.

SANDIP ROY: You can hear the whoops and cheers long before you get to the grounds.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ROY: The San Jose Panthers and the San Jose Thunderbolts are duking it out at the Cesar Chavez Elementary School.

(Soundbite of yelling)

Mr. HARMEET SINGH (Cricket Player, San Jose, California): The bowler has to get the batsman out.

ROY: Just like baseball?

Mr. SINGH: Main motive of the batsman is to save his wicket, and then score runs.

ROY: Harmeet Singh has been playing cricket for 16 years, first as all-rounder from Jalandhar in India, and now as a San Jose Panther.

(Soundbite of yelling)

ROY: There are some fifty cricket teams in the Bay area. Harmeet is trying to spread the gospel, but Americans are reluctant converts.

Mr. SINGH: Their plates are full with, you know, you've got baseball, you've got basketball, you have American football. And this game is a little bit alien to them, and…

(Soundbite of yelling)

Mr. SINGH: That's the way, Ben(ph). That's the way. Good shot.

ROY: Of course, you can watch a big tournament like the World Cup online, or you can get the Cricket Combo Dish Network package. But for the full flavor of cricket, you must have chai(ph) and company. Luckily, the IMC6 Movie Theater in San Jose is showing the matches live and for free.

Mr. CHAITAYNA YPIDU(ph) (IMC6 Movie Theater): It's a gorgeous day in the Caribbean, and the Netherlands have a crack at the Australians.

ROY: Chaitayna Ypidu has to get there at six in the morning to open the doors, but he understands.

Mr. YPIDU: In India, cricket is a religion. So everybody talks about cricket, and when there is a big match or when India is playing on against another team, we can find a crowd of 10 people - about eight of the people will be talking about the cricket.

ROY: Breakfast is on the house, timed with a drink breaks in St. Kitts.

Mr. GOTAM PAUL(ph) (Cricket Fan): Can I have some tea, please?

ROY: Gotam Paul and a few other die-hard fans are rehashing old matches. When South Asian countries have gone to war with each other, their cricket match ups can be explosive.

Mr. YPIDU: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. PAUL: Last year, in one of the restaurants, the India versus Pakistan World Cup, it was packed. It was probably around 300 or 200 seating, but they allowed like 600 or 700 people. People were sitting on the floor.

ROY: I was always hopeless at playing cricket, but back in India, even I would run to our neighbor's house during cricket matches, because it was the only place that had a TV. There'd be a dozen kids, parents, grannies, all piled up on the bed watching an old black-and-white television showing the test match in a faraway city. Half a world away now, I'm in front of the giant screen in San Jose, still hoping the batsman will hit the ball for a sink.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) I don't like cricket. Oh, no. I love it.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Sandip Roy is the host of UP FRONT on member station KALW in San Francisco. Alas, bad news for Sandip and other Indian-American cricket fans: India was knocked out of the World Cup yesterday.

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