A group of second-graders ran out to recess one warm day in Ashburn late last year. One shouted, “Let’s play cricket!” His excited classmates responded, “I’ll be the batsman!” “I’ll be the bowler!”
On the playground, they began pantomiming the game, bowling an imaginary ball, swinging an imaginary bat and running back and forth. The game was just pretend, because they had no cricket equipment.
More than 300 years after it was first brought to the American colonies by British settlers, cricket — a cousin of baseball — is surging in popularity in Loudoun County. Immigrants from South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan, where passion for cricket borders on obsession, have brought their love of the game to the area.
Sheila Jones, who oversees physical education for the Loudoun County public schools, said she and other teachers attended a convention in the fall to receive training in cricket fundamentals.
“We’re working on getting training for all the teachers,” she said. “With that comes the equipment.”
Jones and other teachers were trained by the U.S. Youth Cricket Association, a nonprofit organization that provides cricket training for teachers across the country. “As quickly as possible, we get the teachers playing cricket,” said USYCA President Jamie Harrison. “Then we give them a free cricket equipment kit designed for the schools.”
Peggie Tyree, a physical education teacher at Tuscarora High School in Leesburg, said she became a believer while attending cricket training.
“I’m all gung-ho for it,” she said. “It’s fun to play. It’s constantly moving, and that’s what kids want.”
Cricket is a bat-and-ball game, with bowlers and batsmen instead of pitchers and batters. The bowler tries to hurl the ball past the batsman, whose goal is to hit the ball with his bat, out of the reach of fielders, in an attempt to score runs.
Unlike baseball, the game is played “in the round,” with no foul territory. This makes it easier for the batsman to put the ball in play. Tyree said this is one reason students don’t get as nervous when learning the game.
“They worry so much about swinging and missing, or striking out,” she said. “And incorporating games from different countries also encourages respect for each other.”
Over the past decade, thousands of immigrants from South Asia have settled in communities such as Brambleton, South Riding and Stone Ridge. According to U.S. Census data, the Asian Indian population grew from 2,327 in 2000 to 19,822 in 2010.
“We have seen a huge influx of immigrants from ‘cricket countries’ who came here for high-tech jobs,” Harrison said. “They brought their fanaticism about cricket to the United States — and they are fanatics.”
The Loudoun County Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services started an adult cricket league in 2009 after receiving calls from enthusiasts searching for playing fields. The league began with seven teams and grew to 25 teams with 534 players by last year. The spring season will begin Saturday with as many as 30 teams.
“The league is really growing well through word of mouth,” said Prateek Kumar, 34, a senior tech manager at AOL’s Dulles campus who has been playing in the league since it started.
Kumar grew up playing cricket in India. “It’s more like a religion than a game there,” he said. “When you grow up with it, it becomes a part of your life. . . . It brings us all together.”
He said that the AOL campus has a “proper cricket turf pitch” — the focal point of the playing field, where the bowler and batsmen stand — and that the company holds an employee tournament each year.
Harrison attributes the sport’s growing popularity in part to recent changes in the rules. “The original version of cricket was a slow, pastoral game that stretched over several days,” he said. A shorter version of cricket known as Twenty20, or T20, was developed about 10 years ago.
“What you have now is a three-hour blitz of highly exciting cricket,” Harrison said. “Fans love it because it condenses all the excitement into three hours.”
Tyree is confident that Loudoun schoolchildren soon will also be playing the game — with actual bats and balls instead of imaginary ones. “I know we’re going to make it happen,” she said. “We just have to fit it in.”
To learn about joining a cricket team, contact Tim Lander, adult sports specialist with Loudoun County Parks, Recreation and Community Services, at 703-777-0343 or firstname.lastname@example.org.