Dressed in white with their long, paddle-shaped bats in hand, Aviation High School’s inaugural cricket team prepares for a match against DeWitt Clinton High in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Jamaican Patois, and Guyanese Creole fill the air as warm-ups begin.
These are the sounds of cricket in New York City, which last April became the first school district in the United States to introduce cricket as a varsity sport. The game is one of the most enduring legacies of the British Empire — and it’s found new life in 16 city high schools made up primarily of students of South Asian and Caribbean descent. The young athletes see the game as a continuation of the cultural traditions their parents instilled in them.
Unfamiliar to Americans
“Cricket, it’s from my native country,” said Vik Singh, Aviation High School team’s student manager, who is of Guyanese decent. “My dad played. And basically everybody before him played cricket, so it’s good to know that I am also playing cricket.”
Widely considered the world’s second most popular sport after soccer, cricket is unfamiliar to many Americans. In New York City’s West Indian and South Asian communities, however, the game is a treasured export from home. Nowhere is this more evident than in Ozone Park, home to Singh’s Sporting Goods, one of the country’s largest suppliers of cricket equipment.
Customers drive from as far away as Connecticut and Philadelphia to buy bats, balls, and gear at Singh’s. The neighborhood’s bars advertise televised matches in their windows and many residents sign up for satellite television just to follow their favorite teams.
“Cricket is like a religion to me,” said Ricky Singh. “It’s a part of your culture. It’s an everyday part of your life.” After observing immigrants playing the game in places like Ozone Park, Eric Goldstein, the chief executive for School Support Services of the Public School Athletic League, followed a hunch, convinced an interest in the sport existed among many city high schoolers.
“The people who are playing are either recent immigrants or first-generation Americans from immigrant families where cricket was very much part of the sporting culture of where they come from,” said Goldstein. “What we wanted to do is to embrace that — that’s what New York, America, is all about. It’s all about immigration and embracing change and welcoming the new groups.”
Many of the students currently playing cricket did not participate in sports before cricket went varsity. Aviation’s Coach Wesley Henry believes the game helps players who are recent arrivals adjust to America.
“This is a sport their parents understand,” said Henry, 34, who immigrated to the United States from Guyana as a teenager. “This is a sport they play in their country. So it’s a smooth transition for the students to actually come on to the field and participate.”
‘Cricket in Their Blood’
The sport also attracts athletes without any ties to cricket-playing nations. Cricket novice Shamir Alcequiez, a Dominican American, joined DeWitt Clinton’s team when his swimming coach suggested he try out. He said it took him a long time to adjust to the game.
“They got the cricket in their blood and I don’t,” said Alcequiez, 15, who also plays baseball. “So it’s difficult.”
His heart remains with baseball, however. “I can’t lie,” he said. “If I got to choose, I choose baseball.”
Yet, in baseball-obsessed New York, cricket has its devotees. “I feel a lot of connection because when I play cricket, I am a member of my country,” said DeWitt Clinton’s Sohail Banaras, 14, who was born in Pakistan. “When I play baseball, I don’t feel as much excitement as when I play cricket.”
Mdarman Mannan, a Bangladesh-born Aviation High student who tried out for both baseball and cricket this season, agrees.
“It’s a new thing,” he said. “Baseball, you could say, is an old thing in America.”