Cricket gains popularity with Nebraska youth
By NET News
August 11th, 2014
Lincoln, NE — Early on a recent Sunday, a group of American kids stood on the sidelines of a gameâ€”getting crazy excited. Yes, it was in Nebraska, but no, it had nothing to do with Husker football. And nope, not even the College World Series.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/omaha_cricket_KVNO.mp3]
The middle-school kids were shouting on the sidelines of aÂ cricketÂ pitch. You know, the bat-and-ball game that kind of looks like baseball? And, okay, most of them have parents from Commonwealth countries like India and Pakistan, where A) cricket is a big deal, and B) last names have several consonants:
â€œKanthamneni, thatâ€™s my last name,â€ explained Sai Kanthamneni from the sidelines. â€œBut people just call me Sai. Okay, Kanthamneni,â€ he continued, as laughter bubbled around him from his teammates. â€œDude, you already mentioned that!â€ shouted one.
And sure, these kids may have seen their expat parents tuned in to pay-per-view cricket and reminiscing of home, but they like cricket for their own reasons. Two answers from the group below:
â€œYou run and catch the ball, and you fall down and bump your head!â€
â€œThatâ€™s the exact thing I like! You get hit!â€
These young cricketers are players in Nebraskaâ€™s first inter-city youth
league: the Omaha Ninjas versus the Lincoln Warriors.Â The league was organized by the Omaha Cricket Club, which has played at NP Dodge Park near Eppley Airfield for more than 20 years. For the past three years, the club has been setting up camps in local schools to introduce the game to young batters and bowlers. They have a running tally of kids theyâ€™ve reached on theirÂ website. Currently itâ€™s over 4,474 in 49 schools, and if only a slice of that tally sticks with it, cricket in Nebraska is here to stay.
Peter Michaud, a transplant to Omaha from Washington, D.C., sat on the sidelines with other enthusiastic parents at the game. He said the energy of the coaches, the players, and the parents, is just fun to be around.
â€œThat kind of enthusiasm is just contagious,â€ Michaud said. â€œThatâ€™s what I like the most about it, and itâ€™s a new sport, itâ€™s different. Itâ€™s off the beaten path for most traditional American sports.â€
Michaudâ€™s seven-year-old son, Alexander, scored the winning run for Omaha with a big hit, even though he was playing 12- and 13-year-olds. So, what does Xanderâ€”as he goes byâ€” like about cricket?
And does he play other sports?
â€œYeah, baseball, umâ€¦basketballâ€¦â€
â€œWhat are you playing this fall?â€ prompted his dad.
Oh right, soccer. That peskily popular game is actually the model the Omaha Cricket Club is following. Bring the sport to the kids so they can grow up and push for colleges to adopt the game. Itâ€™s a national strategy that the United States Youth Cricket Association is employing. Bhaskar Setti heads the Omaha Cricket Club and also works with the national group managing over 300 clubs. He says cricket is perfect for what he calls â€œsideline kidsâ€ â€“ those who donâ€™t have the build for football or the height for basketball.
â€œTwenty percent of the school kids are naturally athletic, theyâ€™re fit for playing basketball, baseball, and all other sports,â€ he said. â€œAround 80 percent of the kids are going back to PS3 and Xboxes. So we want to target those kids and bring them here.â€
â€œOur best player in the world is around 5â€™6â€ and a normal build,â€ he said. â€œWe donâ€™t have to hit hard. We have to strategically place the ball in the field.â€
Sure, itâ€™s an uphill battle. And there are loads of sports to compete against. But Settiâ€™s convinced cricket can find a new place in America. (It has an old place. Even Abraham Lincoln turned out for a game in 1849, and some argue Americaâ€™s pastimeâ€”baseballâ€”wouldnâ€™t even exist if it hadnâ€™t been for cricket.) The modern game is moving away from the traditionally slow-movingÂ five-day test matches to the fast-paced â€œT20â€ games, which can be over in two to three hours.
Suman Vallabhbhai, a parent and immigrant from Panama whose own parents hail from India watched his son Deven, 12, from the sidelines, with his wife Michelle. She says her son participated in a youth cricket workshop and decidedâ€”on his ownâ€”he wanted to play.
â€œHe tried basketball, he tried soccer and none of it stuck,â€ she said. â€œIt was always something that â€˜Ah, do I have to keep going? Can we stop now?â€™ This, I never get an argument, ever.â€
â€œItâ€™s really nice to finally find a group thatâ€™s he feels comfortable and happy with and heâ€™s learning something and being active,â€ she said.
Being active, of course, and oh, so many reasons to like cricket. Another sampling from the Omaha Ninjas:
Itâ€™s a team sport we can enjoy with our friends.
You get hit when you catch the ball sometimes!
Bowling and batting.
You donâ€™t get multiple chances to come back and win.
The Omaha Cricket Club will continue with youth camps and workshops in Lincoln and Omaha throughout the school year, with a possible league game over fall break. Depending on the enthusiasm.
For more on this story, and to watch a video of the Omaha Ninjas versus the Lincoln Warriors, check out the September/October issue ofÂ Omaha Magazine.Â
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