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June 10, 2009 > Cricket's a hit in Fremont, South Bay

Cricket's a hit in Fremont, South Bay

By Gary van den Heuvel

The game of cricket has been played since the 16th century. By the 18th century, it had become the national sport of England. The spread of the British Empire led to cricket being played in over 100 countries worldwide.

Though cricket has never quite caught on with the mainstream public in America, that may be about to change, due to the growing popularity of the game in Silicon Valley and other parts of the Bay Area. Cricket games at parks and baseball fields all over Fremont, Milpitas, San Jose and elsewhere are becoming a common sight.

"There's been a big increase in the number of e-mails we've received from people who want to learn the game of cricket and what it is," said Raj Padhi, one of the founders of the Bay Area Cricket Alliance (BACA) and currently representing the West Coast as the Executive Director of the USA Cricket Association (USACA), the national body that oversees cricket in America.

The team Padhi runs, the Thunderbolts, is one of 10 in the BACA, which also has teams from as far as Vallejo, Fresno and Stockton.

A primary reason for cricket's local rise in popularity is the large population of Indian immigrants who live in the area. Cricket is the national game of India, and according to Indian native Padha, it became the national game in 1983, when India won the World Cup for the first time.

"After that, everyone in India played cricket," said Padhi, who came to the U.S. in 1995.

Cricket has certain obvious structural similarities to baseball, but with rules which tend to leave the average American sports fan confused at the complexity and jargon.

Like baseball, cricket has a batter (known as a batsman), and a pitcher, called a bowler. Cricket also has innings, outs and fielders. But that's about where the similarities between the two games end.

There are no bases in cricket. At the center of the field (called the pitch) are two wickets, over 60 feet apart from each other. Each wicket consists of three wooden stumps, each over two feet long and planted in the ground next to each other so that the first and third stumps are nine inches from each other.

On top of the stumps are two strips of wood (about 4 inches long), known as bails, which are placed in grooves on the tops of the stumps. The bat is about 38 inches long, flat and paddle-shaped with a cane handle.

The team that bats first sends two batsmen out onto the field, one to each wicket. The opposing team sends a bowler to one wicket and a wicketkeeper to a position behind the other wicket, not unlike a catcher's position on the baseball field. The remaining nine defensive players are positioned all over the field - there is no foul territory in cricket.

The bowler throws the ball either underhand or overhand without bending his arm. After hitting the ball, the batsman can elect to run to the opposite end of what is called the bowling crease, where the other wicket is located. If the batsman runs, his partner, standing at the opposite wicket, then runs for the crease which the batsman just left. If both runners reach their respective creases before either of them is put out, a run is scored. The batting team can also score runs if the bowler or fielders commit infractions. Aside from physically running, the batsman can score runs by hitting the ball past certain boundaries, which will score either four or six runs.

A four is scored by hitting the ball past the boundary after hitting the ground while a six is scored by hitting the ball past the boundary on the fly, before it hits the ground. And the same batsman continues to bat until he has been put out.

Batsmen can be put out in various ways. One way is to be 'bowled over,' meaning the bowler has delivered a ball that the batsman couldn't hit and the ball struck the wicket and knocked the bail off of it.

An out may be recorded if a fielder catches a batted ball on the fly. If a fielder stops a batted ball that has hit the ground, and the batsman chooses to run, the fielder can throw the ball at either wicket in an attempt to knock off the bail before the runner reaches the crease, or he may throw to the bowler or the wicket-keeper, who can knock off the bail ahead of the runner.

An innings (which always ends with 's' whether in singular or plural forms) ends when 10 batsmen have been dismissed (put out). The traditional form of the game is two complete innings, but there is no limit to how long an innings can be, and games can last for up to five days. There are other formats, such as Twenty20 Cricket, which is used by the BACA and keeps the games at a more fan-friendly length of two to three hours.

For Raj Padhi, his latest cricket project is the development of the BACA Women's team, which he calls "the only proper women's team anywhere in the U.S." Padhi hopes to have the team ready for international competition, and their first test will be the weekend of June 26 and 27 against a visiting women's team from Seattle.

The location of the June 26-27 games, as well as the July 4 Cricket Festival, is still to be announced, as arrangements are still being finalized.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about cricket or in inquiring about the local youth or adult leagues can learn more at www.bayareacricket.org.

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