Is cricket taking Brooklyn and Queens?


Cricket, which was first played in New York City in 1844, has now become a growing sport here. As immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean, Pakistan and India have settled in New York City, cricket games are popping up in parks on warm sunny days in Brooklyn and Queens, where people gather on weekends to play the game, while their families sit back and cheer on their favorite players. If you look closely in neighborhoods like South Ozone Park, Richmond Hill and Hillside in Queens, you will notice two dozen players dressed in uniforms playing the game. For those unfamiliar with the sport, it is eye-catching to see so many people competing in a sport that is not well-known in New York.

Cricket is a bat and ball game, like baseball, played between two teams. But that is where the similarity ends. Each team has 11 players. It is played on an oval field with a rectangular expanse of grass in the center about 66 feet long called “a pitch”. One team bats, while the other team bowls (pitches) and fields. The batting team has two players up at a time, one at each end of the pitch. Both players work in unison to score runs for their teams. A batsman scores a run by hitting the ball with the bat and running towards the opposite end of the pitch and touching the crease (one of several lines dividing up the pitch) with the bat.

The other team has all 11 players on the field. Ten of them field, that is, try to catch the ball before it touches the ground after it is hit by the batsman which strikes him out. Another important way to strike the batsman out is to toss the ball against the wicket, three sticks about 2½ feet tall which stand behind the batsman and which hold two rods (bails) in between them. If the wicket is hit, the bails are dislodged or the batsman knocks against it by mistake, he’s out.  The wicket is the like the goalpost in soccer—that’s how important it is.

Every run made by the batting team counts in cricket. It is a chasing game. The goal is to make the most runs in an inning.

“There are more than a hundred cricket teams in New York,” said Sudesh Dhaniram, a professional cricketer who represented the U.S cricket team from 2009-2012. There are seven cricket leagues and each one is diverse, drawing on players from all over the world, particularly from countries that were former British colonies. Dhaniram plays the game both on Saturdays and Sundays. As a former West Indies (international cricketer) batsman, He led Richmond Hill Cricket Team, which plays on Sunday, to its first victory in 2013. On Saturdays he plays for Global Cricket Club, an Indian team based in New Jersey.

“It’s a major entertainment for the Caribbean and Asian people,” said Anil Beharry, the vice president of the Berbice Cricket Board and bank manager of New Building Society in Guyana. Beharry frequently comes to New York to play cricket during the summers.

“The game builds bridges beyond race, culture and creed,” Beharry continued. He said that from his experience, the game is expanding in Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Bronx.

“I think the game is becoming popular,” said Mohammad Nazu, captain of the Commonwealth league. “Every year there is a new league,” Nazu, 26 continued. He said that it is a major sport among different groups of people. “It’s slowly getting the attention it needs,” Nazu said.

A number of New York City high schools now have cricket teams, including John Adams, Long Island City, Martin Van Buren, and the High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction, among others. Last year, the top schools vied for a spot for a chance to be named the ‘Best in the City’ at the third annual NYC Mayor’s Cup Cricket All-Star Games. The NYC Mayor’s Cup series features 11 sporting events. Athletes of all ages from all five boroughs compete year round to prove that they are the city’s best baseball, lacrosse, outdoor track and field, basketball, softball, soccer, wrestling, chess, table tennis, cross country–and cricket players.

New York City has long been an epicenter of sports history. In 1844, the city hosted its first international cricket match between Canada and the U.S. In May, it made its mark in the world’s sports history book by hosting the New York T20 Bash Cricket Tournament.

The tournament lasted from May 2-4. Sixteen teams along with international, national and local players participated in the event. The teams competed for the first prize of $15,000 and the Championship Trophy, sponsored by CricketZone. Competitions that are not as big are usually sponsored by local businesses. For, the Richmond Hill Cricket team, mostly Guyanese businessmen sponsor the players.

“Mostly everybody that plays in the team contributes money to buy gear,” said Nazu in a phone interview. “It’s 80% the individuals who play put money into the game,” he said. Dhaniram added that friends and families support them also.  But for competitions that involve prizes over $5,000, the league takes a $2,500 membership fee from each team to buy the awards and uniforms and pay the ground fees.

New York City draws players from all over the world and almost anyone who enjoys the sport can be part of the game. Nazu, born in Bangladesh migrated in 2001 and started to play in 2007. He and his friends started their own team and ended up playing for the Commonwealth League.

After years of playing, he became the captain of his team. “A lot of leadership is involved,” Nazu said. He has to make sure everybody is on the ground on time, guides his players and places the batting and bowling line up. “I like the responsibility,” Nazu said. He was proud to speak of his accomplishments in the game. He was awarded the “man of the match” for one game, best bowler, fielder of the match for another, won trophies and even prize money. On the weekends he plays cricket in New Jersey and Queens and he just graduated from John Jay College with a degree in Criminal Justice.

On Sundays, cricketers play in Baisely Park in Queens and at Flushing Meadows, and sometimes at other parks. The games have been attracting more but not as many as some would like.

“I’ve been playing for a while and the game hasn’t gone anywhere,” said Dhaniram,47, who used to tour with the West Indies to the U.S. since 1995.

But, Nazu would disagree, saying the game is slowly getting there. In Lauderhill, Florida, there is a cricket stadium, called the Central Broward Regional Park and Stadium which hosts cricket games especially 20/20 games, a shorter and more exciting version of cricket. And then there are the burgeoning games here in New York City. So, maybe cricket is making headway in the U.S. after all, and particularly in Brooklyn and Queens.

“I play with different people from different countries, as opposed to Bangladesh where I play with people only from my area,” Nazu said. “It’s a friendly environment,” he added.

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