The Contagious Effect of Cricket
by Aditya Desai
“The cup stays in South Asia!” exclaimed my roommate, breathing, eating, and drinking India’s glory win last weekend as champions of the ICC Cricket World Cup, top tourney in that “other” sport that’s played everywhere except America. The final match against Sri Lanka, in a photo-finish final score of 277-274 runs, capped off a Cinderella sports story for India.
Here in the States, while spring is mostly dominated by March Madness, there is still an undercurrent of Cricket Craziness. Thanks to the burgeoning South Asian community, cricket fans are alive in the West with the same fervor as any Sunday tailgater or home-plate season ticket holder.
In places with large populations of South Asian Americans, the sight of this unusual and “foreign” sport being played on baseball fields and in parks has become common.
The reactions and perceptions are almost cliché: Cricket is kind of like baseball—it has a bat, you hit the ball, and run to score. But the bat is flat? And why do you swing your arm around in a circle to toss? And what the heck is a wicket?
But I digress. Cricket is not so much of an otherness-sport anymore. The rising influence of immigrant communities in America has exposed many people to cricket, just as soccer has caught on with record U.S. viewership of the FIFA World Cup last year.
There are a few reasons to explain cricket’s growing popularity in the U.S. Many Indian immigrant players have spread the joy of cricket to their American friends. Over the years, cricket has become widely organized in largely populated Indian American areas. Cricket leagues sponsor games and local tournaments that are open to anyone who creates their own team.
In my locale of Washington, D.C., both the Washington Cricket League and the Washington Metro Cricket League organize games for teams comprised of players from all backgrounds: young and old, men and women, working professionals and students, Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalis, Sri Lankans, and more.
Similar teams and leagues exist all around the country. As a result, cricket is certainly alive and well in the States (yes, by the way—there is a USA Cricket team and a USA Cricket Association). Cricket, like all sports, has grafted itself into the national DNA of many countries over time. For these people, to play cricket means to celebrate their heritage. In the U.S., where different cultural groups rub shoulders, cricket has allowed South Asians to come together in healthy sportsmanship.
In the ICC, a lot of nationalism rhetoric swirls amongst the teams. This is especially evident between India and Pakistan, opponents in sport and the global political stage. Of course, they carry the identity of their home countries, and everyone knows it. Cricket is another arena for testing the rocky relationship between these two nations, leading to very real threats of rioting or worse. During that semifinal match, more than 1,000 police security personnel guarded players from both teams in their hotels.
Tensions that extreme don’t seem to carry overseas. In the U.S., many of my own friends (South Asians from all backgrounds) skipped work and school entirely to watch a satellite feed of the game from the early pre-dawn hours into the midday. Outside of the subcontinent borders, there is less geopolitical focus in the competition. As the semi-final, and then the final win for India culminated, my Facebook news feed was flooded with people cheering and exclaiming for joy—from those who lived cricket and those who still weren’t even sure how it was played.
I’m certain this level of sports fanaticism is familiar to Americans, even if the game isn’t. No matter what your background is, most people understand the act of donning on a jersey, snacks in front of the huge flat screen TV, and jumping out of the couch and screaming for joy when your team scores. The only difference is that Indians, and South Asians, have to adjust to the time zones.
Aditya Desai is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland, College Park.