Coach Niraj Patel readying his team to take on the upcoming season

By Annanya
Medill Reports

The Naperville Baseball Academy, always a home for one of America’s favorite sports, has a growing second life as a cricket center for Chicago United, one of the major  area clubs.

Coach Niraj Patel is readying his team to take on the upcoming season if games against other clubs in the region.

Patel, who represented Rajasthan Royals when they won the inaugural Indian Premier League in 2008, now permanently lives in Chicago.

“This is one of the best clubs in the entire USA, not only in Chicago. The most important thing is that it is very organized. The players in the club are very professional,” says Patel.

He also talks about the aspects of the game that he is working on for the upcoming season.

Talking about developing cricket in America, Patel says he believes that it has to start from the grassroots. “When development starts from the junior level, cricketers will have more time and more opportunities. So it has to come from the school level,” he adds.

Look for the game schedule within the coming weeks. Meanwhile, team members practice on weekends – part-time immigrant players with day jobs and also players from other countries who join the club for the duration of the playing season from April to October.

Lou Solarte, who has owned the academy since 2010, says he had no idea he would be using it for cricket when he first bought it. “I knew cricket was a sport, but that’s all I knew. About 6 years ago, one of the cricket guys came in and said ‘we’d like to train here.’ We rolled the mats up the way he suggested, and they just started playing and have been here ever since,” he says.

Like most indoor facilities where cricket is practiced in Chicago, the Naperville Baseball Academy remains primarily a baseball facility. Unlike most others though, it has enough space for the bowler to complete his run-up.

A bowler in cricket is analogous to a pitcher in baseball. However, even though a pitcher stands on his mound and throws the ball, a cricket bowler runs a considerable distance before he throws, or bowls the ball. A shorter run-up can affect their performance. To compensate for the lack of space, many places use bowling machines, which can stimulate the way a ball is bowled without actually needing a run-up. It’s good for when they need to practice hitting the balls, but it gives no practice for the bowlers.

“The inside playing area is a 120 feet long,” says Solarte, “enough for the bowler to complete his run-up. That is one of the most attractive things for the cricket players here.”

This has also helped him get more clients for his space. The U.S. National Cricket Team often trains at his facility. They have a lot of players who play for the Chicago United, and whenever they are in town, they go to the Naperville Baseball Academy if it’s too cold to train outside, which is very often the case in Chicago.

Their most regular client, Chicago United, has been training there .for about six years now. Nadeem Zain, the President of the club thinks Naperville is a great place to base cricket in the Midwest area. “It’s hard to develop any new facility in a packed city like Chicago, so this is a good place to be. And we are close enough to Chicago, so we can attract a lot of immigrants from cricket-playing nations.”

Donieke Perrin is one of those immigrants. Originally from Jamaica, Perrin spends a lot of his weekends in Naperville playing cricket. “Nadeem and his team are a really dedicated bunch. I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of cricket around here. But whenever I get a chance, I play,” says the Rogers Park resident.

A lot of immigrants have shown interest in playing cricket with Chicago United. And it’s not only athletes who play it as a hobby. A lot of players who have played in cricket leagues in India and Pakistan now play for the club. This includes Sunny Sohal and Sidharth Kaul, who divide their time between the U.S. and India.

[Photo at top: Niraj Patel coaches one of the bowlers in the Chicago United Cricket Club. (Annanya/MEDILL)]