Cricket is all the rage in Southeast Asia where India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka revere this pastime as more than a major league sport and something closer to a religion.
Actual shrines in India are dedicated to Sachin Tendulkar, one of the game’s greatest players.
Immigrants who move here miss the sport. So cricket lovers in and around Chicago who are from the Asian subcontinent got together and decided to start a cricket league. The American Cricket Conference was born in 2001.
The league games across the Midwest start at the end of April.
Sanjay Bari, who came to the U.S. from Pakistan 36 years ago, says cricket has always been his passion. He was one of the founding members and is the president of the American Cricket Conference.
“We had to travel a lot just to play a cricket match. We had only one cricket field back when we started. Now we have about seven or eight in and around Chicago,” he adds. With humble beginnings and only two teams in 2001, the league saw 41 teams participating last year.
Manish Verma, manager of the Patriots Cricket Club in Chicago, one of the two teams that played in the inaugural 2001 games, says their vision is to make sure cricket fanatics in the Chicago area don’t feel left out.
“We started off in college. Then some of my friends joined, and then some more people joined. We just wanted to play the game because we loved it.”
And international cricket has made a stand in the United States. The national team participated in the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy, which is the second most important cricket tournament in the world.
However, the United States of America Cricket Association was expelled from the International Cricket Council last year after it failed to adopt a constitution that met a number of requirements to improve governance and transparency. Right now, cricket enthusiasts are trying to build a new governing board
In 2015, some of cricket’s biggest names came to the United States to a three-match series called the All-Star Series. India’s Sachin Tendulkar and Australia’s Shane Warne, arguably two of the greatest cricketers in history, captained the two teams . One of the three matches, originally scheduled for Wrigley Field, was later moved to the Minute Maid Park in Houston. Then in August 2016, the Indian national team played West Indies in two matches at Lauderhill, Florida.
“You can bring international teams, but what about American players? They are not getting enough money so that they can focus,” he says.
Bari feels that the lack of funding is what is stopping the expansion of cricket in America.
However, none of that is stopping Manish Verma from promoting cricket.
“Now that most of us are getting old, we promote youngsters. Our vision is to make sure that the youngsters don’t forget cricket,” he says.
Photo at top: A cricket batsman gets ready to face a delivery in the nets at the Naperville Baseball Academy. Cricket is a lot like baseball. (Annanya/MEDILL)