LIKE MANY AMERICANS, I’ve spent my life largely clueless about cricket.
I set out to at least partly remedy that when I took in a recent match at Grass Lawn Park in Redmond.
Santhosh Pillai, a longtime fixture on the local cricket scene, and other players patiently filled me in on the rules as the action unfolded. Yes; it’s a bit like baseball — it has batters (called batsmen), pitchers (bowlers) and fielders. But then it’s not at all like baseball. A typical cricket pitch is an oval, with only two bases. And cricket scores can top 300 total runs in a game.
Pillai started playing cricket here about 20 years ago, even before a small group founded the American Recreational Cricket League in 2001. Within a few years, the league had more than 100 teams. “Over the last five to six years, it’s just exploded,” Pillai says.
Now, the ARCL has about 200 teams in a number of performance-based divisions. Volunteer coordinators keep it running smoothly. The league added a women’s division early on — one of the nation’s first — and a youth division in 2015.
Lacking many dedicated cricket grounds, players usually mark out their own pitches on baseball or soccer fields. The ARCL plays a shorter, slightly simplified version of the game. The region’s other major cricket league, NorthWest Cricket League, plays a more typical version that lasts about six hours.
The competition is both friendly and fierce.
Pillai founded the Sidewinders cricket club, which fields teams in every ARCL division. On this day, the Sidewinders Reloaded team was wearing its trademark blue and magenta kit. The other team was a bit more casual, in T-shirts or jerseys representing various clubs.
I watched as bowlers delivered pitches and batsmen ran, two at a time, while fielders scrambled to return the ball.
Much of ARCL’s membership is made up of first- or second-generation immigrants from South Asia, with a sprinkling of Australians and others in the mix.
A shared love of cricket creates a sense of continuity with ancestral homelands and can help players adjust to life in a new place. They bond through games but also parties and post-match socializing, which often lead to friendships off the pitch.
Anant Sundaram moved here a decade ago, at the start of the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll era. Seeing Carroll’s competitive energy, he says, “I asked myself, ‘How do I make this my own?’ ” He found his answer in cricket, where he’s known for his batting skills. “It’s been a big help in assimilation.”
But cricket can also help bridge the gap between cricket players and locals, as when cricket teams join to raise money for local charities.
As the game continued, I started to grasp the play-by-play. Afterward, I stuck around to watch another match.
Local cricketers hope more Americans will learn about the sport. “In general, there is an aspiration to make it much broader,” Sundaram says. Players point out that the U.S. national team is getting better, with its best World Cricket League tournament finish this year (fourth place in Division Two).
“I do hope that people from the U.S. dive in a little bit more,” Sundaram says. “We would welcome them.”