On Sunday afternoons, drivers on Hunter Mill Road near Reston can see them almost as a mirage, a glimpse at the top of a hill — men in white playing cricket in Lake Fairfax Park. The Fairfax Cricket Club has been there since 1996, and at least two regional cricket leagues operate from spring to fall.
Now, the game is going year-round. WTOP’s Neal Augenstein reports that an indoor cricket club has opened in Sterling, “The Wicket Club.” The club was opened by Shaista and Nasr Chaudhry on Elmwood Court, and features “three full length lanes for bowling practice, BOLA (brand) machines for versatile batting practice, one court to play an indoor game” plus a party room and area to watch international tests. (Little cricket jargon for you there.)
“Cricket is a religion in India,” Shaista Chaudhry told Augenstein, and she said the club would soon be forming leagues. Whether the lanky Augenstein will be out there bowling beamers and googlys remains up in the air.
And let’s not forget that the men of George Mason University’s cricket team won the national collegiate cricket championship last year. A trend? Another sign of Northern Virginia’s increasing diversity? Complete coincidence? You decide. After the jump is The Post’s 2002 look at the Fairfax Cricket Club and its team in the Washington Cricket League, which now has 35 teams and more than 1,400 active members.
Sticky wickets turn up in N. Va.
By Michele Clock | Special to The Washington Post
It's a familiar but curious site at Reston's Lake Fairfax Park: a group of men dressed in white, spread out in a circle. In the middle, players stand on a long, rectangular strip of red clay. On top of the strip, one man sprints and then pitches a red-colored ball to another, rectangular bat in hand.
“It's not uncommon to have 15 to 20 locals lined up around our game by the end,” said Palsule, who started playing in his native Mumbai, India, as a boy. “A lot of times they come up and say, ‘I've been meaning to ask, how do you score a run?’” Between March and September, Palsule and his 35 teammates spend about seven hours a weekend competing in Reston and across the Washington area in the 450-player Washington Cricket League.
The Fairfax Cricket Club was founded six years ago by Shakeel Yusuf and three friends who worked for the Fairfax County government. He now serves as the club's co-director.
From there, the foursome began to talk about playing themselves. Using softball gloves instead of traditional wicket keeper gloves, and shared leg guards, the group played on a bare patch of grass on a George Mason University soccer field. Eventually the group approached the Fairfax County Park and Rec Services Departments about building their own "pitch," the clay strip that's central to an official cricket game. In cricket, a wicket signifies the two wooden posts that stick up out of the pitch, as well as the strip of clay between the posts. When a wicket is "sticky" it's at least partially wet, creating an uneven surface off of which players must bounce the ball.
After getting the okay, the group began planning the funding and construction of the pitch that stands today at Lake Fairfax, the only one of its kind in the county.
“There’s a lot of traffic at Lake Fairfax, people on bikes, people flying kites,” said Yusuf. “They do come and ask about the game.”
Deepak Patel compares cricket to baseball for passersby. “I tell them it’s very similar to baseball, it's just like another version,”Patel said.
Patel formed a second group, Cosmos Cricket Club, which today is made up of nearly 30 players and competes at Lake Fairfax and in the Washington Cricket League. He also helped a third Fairfax County-based club, the Virginia Cricket Club, secure playing time at Lake Fairfax. VCC was formed in 1997 and also plays in the Washington Cricket League
On Sunday, the two longtime rivals — Fairfax and Cosmos — competed in Hyattsville, Md., in the second round of the league playoffs. Cosmos Club won by a score of 185-184 and will go on to play in the Lincoln Conference final.
The clubs serve as an outlet to first generation Americans from South Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh as well as Jamaica, New Zealand and Australia, who share a love for cricket.
“Our overall objective has been to have a multiracial club,” Yusuf said of the Fairfax Cricket Club. “And they all get along well.”
Despite years of political tension between the countries of Pakistan and India, players say that it doesn’t carry over into their clubs.
“In the last four or five years, it's really reached a boiling point,” said Palsule. “But there's an unspoken rule that nobody discusses it. There's so much else to talk about.”
Players are recruited almost entirely by word of mouth or via the Internet, though Palsule stumbled onto the sport after seeing a sign one day at Lake Fairfax in May 1997. The next day he returned to the park and found the Fairfax Cricket Club playing.
“It’s funny, if either one of the other cricket clubs was practicing that day, I probably would still be playing with them today,” Palsule said. “There's a lot more of an understanding of [the sport] now. People flip through the channels in this area and they're able to pick it up with golf and the other sports.
Another Fairfax player, Vinit Deshpande, 22, started playing cricket at age 8 but wasn’t sure if he would be able to continue with the sport after moving to Vienna a year ago. Deshpande left his hometown of Pune, India, where he played on the state cricket team to study in a Masters program at the Falls Church satellite campus of Virginia Tech. He met Palsule at a party, however, and had a new cricket connection.
“In India you start playing as soon as you can stand,” said Deshpande. “This is something that gets the country united . . . if you live on the streets you play against landlords. Everyone plays.”