National Sport of India Making Headway into the U.S.

As a new school year begins this month, students in the Tri-Valley region of northern California will be participating in a popular team sport enjoyed by millions of people – but it’s not one of the traditional American pastimes such as baseball, football, or basketball. Instead, students in the area are flocking to play cricket, a bat-and-ball game that was originally developed in 16th century England. The sport gained popularity in South Asia during three centuries of British colonization, and cricket is widely considered the unofficial national sport of both England and India. Now, it’s gaining a foothold in the United States, thanks to shifting demographics and an influx of South Asian immigrants eager to stay connected to the culture of their native countries and share their love of the game.

Until relatively recently, the Tri-Valley region of northern California was a collection of white, rural small towns. But in the last 15 years, the population of South Asian residents has skyrocketed, in some areas by as much as 600 percent. Highly skilled and educated immigrants, drawn to Northern California to work in its thriving tech industry, have settled into the region and transformed it into an economically strong and sprawling suburb. The newly diversified population is reflected in the community – several Indian grocery stores have popped up in recent years and are thriving, as are churches with primarily South Asian congregations. And the growing popularity of cricket is yet another sign of a shifting cultural demographic.

The city of San Ramon currently only has two cricket fields (known as pitches, which refers to the mown portion of the field between the wickets), but they are consistently more crowded than the city’s many baseball diamonds. When the city council proposed a limit on cricket playing hours at a public park in 2010, nearly 300 residents signed a petition in protest, and the proposal was eventually abandoned. San Francisco mayor Bill Clarkson explained in a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that “there are probably more cricket fields here than in any other Bay Area community.” [See Pitches for Cricket Reflect Asian Shift, by Joaquin Palomino, San Francisco Chronicle, 31.Aug.2015]

While cricket pitches in the Tri-Valley region have mainly been used by adult players, this is quickly changing. Several cities in the region have established summer youth leagues, and a number of middle schools are planning to organize cricket field clubs that will play throughout the academic year. During a recent youth summer league tournament in San Ramon, resident Sathya Raghavendran watched her son compete and noted in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that, as an immigrant, it was important to her that cricket be enjoyed by future generations. “It’s bringing my childhood memories back,” she said. “We were born in India, and we came here to work, but these kids were born here. If you don’t get them involved in cricket, that excitement is going to die with us.”

Thousands of South Asian immigrants now call the Tri-Valley region home, and have contributed dramatically to the area’s economic prosperity. And while they are eager to take part in the American dream, it is imperative to them that the cultures of their native countries also be remembered and honored. The game of cricket is a part of daily life in many South Asian countries. By introducing it to their adopted country, immigrants can share their passion for the sport with their American colleagues and with their own children, ensuring that it will be appreciated by future generations.


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