Duck. Rabbit. Cricket.
There is a connection. A passion for many, the game of cricket features a diverse group of devotees who master the centuries-old rules and, to some, puzzling glossary of terms. (Duck is a score of zero, and a rabbit is a player who can’t bat and is deemed a specialist bowler or wicketkeeper.)
Traditionally thought of as a British pastime, cricket is making inroads into local sport venues and capturing the interest of a growing number of veteran and novice sportsmen. Ramesh Ailaveni is a founder and captain of the Blazers, Edina’s adult cricket team, which was given the 2014 best debut team award by the Minnesota Cricket Association (MCA). While he enjoys playing the sport with his peers, Ailaveni notes there is a secondary team mission. “We want to shed light on this game,” he says, noting that adult players can serve as examples for local youth to take up the sport.
Immigrants often find cricket to be a community builder. When Sandeep Hirekerur of the MCA arrived in the United States from India in 1982, he understandably missed his home and sought ways to ease his transition. It was a natural fit for him to join the cricket organization. “I was brought up with cricket,” he says. “Once upon a time, I was very good at it. [Joining MCA] became a catalyst for me developing my community around me.” Hirekerur notes about 60 percent of MCA players are Indian immigrants. Other participants hail from Australia, Bangladesh, England, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies, to name a few.
“We all play as one,” Ailaveni says of the Blazers, which includes players from a host of countries. “I really enjoy playing with different diversities,” says Blazers player Sumanth Bobba. “It’s interesting to learn from them how they see the game. Each country sees the game differently.”
Spread throughout the Twin Cities, MCA’s 28 men’s teams and eight youth programs play 16 to 20 matches on weekends from May through September. Most matches are played between MCA teams, and tournaments and regional playoffs have been held in Chicago, Houston and St. Louis. Teams have also traveled to Winnipeg, Omaha and Fort Lauderdale.
In winter, the Blazers practice indoors at a Minneapolis YWCA. Once fields are ready, the team practices twice a week at Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr Park cricket field.
Bobba says new players are welcome to join the Blazers. “We prefer them to have experience because we don’t want them to get injured on the field, but we can always teach them,” he says, adding that players, regardless of experience, should come with a strong interest in the game.
Hirekerur says, “Cricket is where soccer was 25 years ago.” MCA plays a large part in developing awareness, including in Edina. Prashanth Upadrashta, a group member, says he is committed to bringing affordable cricket coaching to the city of Edina and making cricket “a diverse sport of choice for Edina residents.” Created in 1976 by Caribbean immigrants attending the University of Minnesota, the organization boasts nearly 500 adult members and about 250 youth players, including about 35 Edina residents, according to Hirekerur.
Missing from those figures are Edina youth. “It’s very surprising to me that we don’t have a [youth] team from Edina,” Ailaveni says. In an effort to draw youngsters to the sport, MCA members visit schools, including those in Edina. Ailaveni says he hopes an Edina team can benefit from the United States of America Cricket Association’s youth development program, which provides free equipment as an incentive.
In the meantime, the sound of cricket season is filling the spring air, and Ailaveni intends to draw upon the Blazers’ successful premier season. Though it didn’t make the playoffs, the team was victorious in five of six short-format matches. “We are looking forward to another competitive season,” he says.