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Sports Sermon: Cricket gaining foothold on Hilltop, U.S.
It all started on the Harbin patio. Just a few friends—headed by an international student from Sri Lanka—equipped with some bats and wickets. Three years after those makeshift matchups between friends, Don Jayamaha (COL ’14) and a couple of those friends took things to the next level, moving their passion to North Kehoe Field. With the help of the Student Activities Commission, the Georgetown Cricket Club was born.
Although still in its infantile stages, Jayamaha says the club received around 30 signups this year, including about 15 with prior cricket experience. For the rest, the club would like to teach them cricket—from bowling to batting, and every nuance in between.
“When we started off, we had three Canadians, four Americans, and a ton of international students that had never played before,” Jayamaha said. “We also had some people that played baseball all their lives and wanted to give it a go.”
While encouraged by the initial reception to the club, Jayamaha realizes the South Asian community at Georgetown is small. That is, those international students like him who grew up around the second-most popular sport in the world are generally few and far between on the Hilltop. This year, he’s seen a rise in that population on campus, with international students from cricket hotbeds like the U.K., Australia, and the West Indies showing interest.
With that in mind, the club hopes to have a number of watch parties and expand beyond Kehoe by increasing interest in the sport. As it is, Georgetown remains behind their area peers—George Washington and American both boast club teams of their own.
Cricket, with its origins in 16th-century England, has yet to gain a foothold in America, perhaps because of its similarities to baseball. If a young athlete is deciding between a foreign sport and one that’s always on television with equipment readily available, there really isn’t an argument to be made for electing a flat bat over a round one. Plus, for short attention spans, the traditional “test” match (which can last up to five days) is a bit daunting. It certainly has its merits, as entire nations get behind their countries and care about the results, but the length simply clashes with the nature of fast-paced American sports.
Because of that, the International Cricket Council has been trying to alter that notion with a more fast-paced model. They’ve gotten it down to a 20-over (an over translates to six balls bowled) format, which reduces game time dramatically to a manageable three hours.
With the new format in mind, the ICC began its fourth iteration of the World Twenty20, an international cricket tournament, on Tuesday. Held in Jayamaha’s native Sri Lanka, the tournament pits nations with historic rivals against each other, like India and Pakistan. What’s more, the tournament has grown rapidly in popularity each season, with increased media attention across the globe. This year, any casual fan can watch the majority of the tournament on ESPN3, with the tournament’s final match airing for a national television audience on ESPN2. It may be just the right amount of exposure U.S. cricket needs.
It’s not as if America has reached its saturation point with sports. This is the same country where the NFL is mulling over expanding to 18 regular season games, while the NCAA planned on expanding their college basketball tournament from 65 to 125 teams (They later settled on 68, for now). That’s not really the argument at hand.
Cricket, like soccer, is simply not our sport. Soccer has increased in popularity in the country, though it has been a slow and gradual process. In the same manner, cricket may have a slow but rocky road ahead if it wants to get on the radar for a casual sports fan. Aside from similarities to baseball, there isn’t an American cricket team to get behind, a la soccer.
For a South Asian growing up in America, I’ve seen both sides of the spectrum. Pure apathy toward cricket during my younger days, followed by a brief obsession with the sport after a visit to India in my teens (that included picking up old test matches on VHS). My enthusiasm for cricket eventually teetered off; there was simply never a means to maintain or heighten my interest once removed from the motherland.
With programming decisions like ESPN’s expanded coverage, that’s no longer the case. Because of Jayamaha and the founders of the Georgetown Cricket Club, it’s no longer a hidden gem on the Hilltop either.