This article first ran in The Cedar Rapids Gazette on July 7, 2017. It can be found here.
CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — Most Americans haven’t paid much attention to cricket.
No, not the pesky insect chirping in your backyard on a summer night. The sport.
Now, it’s not entirely by fault. To watch one of the world’s most popular sports, you must get up in the middle of the night. When India and Pakistan — two of the biggest countries involved in the sport — squared off last week, Iowans would have had to get up at 4 a.m. just to watch.
And cricket leagues in the U.S. are tough to find. The American College Cricket League started less than a decade ago and wasn’t televised on ESPN until 2014.
Locally, leagues for players are even more scarce. Short of just gathering friends and going to the neighborhood park, players had to travel hours, sometimes even across state borders, to find a competitive league to play in.
One Cedar Rapids group is trying to change that.
The Corridor Cricket League kicked off its inaugural season earlier this month, marking the first league of its kind in Eastern Iowa.
“It’s a great game, and that’s why we’re playing it,” Debashis Chatterjee, one of the team captains, said. “Unfortunately, it’s not a very popular game here, and a lot of people don’t know about it. By making this a little more interesting with the (league) and all that, we want a lot of people who have never seen this game before, who have not played before, to come here and play a great game of cricket so they will learn (about the sport).
“It’s about the interest. It’s about the spark. Once someone finds interest, they will come and they will enjoy it.”
The league, which is made up of four teams full of players from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, practices once a week and plays one match every Saturday morning at Seminole Valley Park in Cedar Rapids. The city set up a pitch and a batting cage for use, making it the perfect place to play.
It’s not just “pickup games,” though. The league gets competitive. Complete with full uniforms and even two instant replay cameras, the teams are competing for a trophy — which will be awarded to the winning team after tournament play concludes in September.
Parvath Reddy, the league’s founder, said there were two main reasons for starting the league. First, Eastern Iowa didn’t have any sort of competitive cricket league. Before this year, they would play casual games in the park with whomever they could.
And secondly, when the group did want to compete in a competitive setting, they would have to travel. Reddy said they would form a team and travel to Ames, Des Moines, Omaha, Kansas City and other destinations just to play against other teams. That travel, he said, gets old fast, and ends up taking over your entire weekend.
“That’s the positive and the most important part,” Chatterjee said. “Everybody has family. And instead of spending so much time on the road traveling, it’s awesome that we’re able to conduct such a tournament here ... instead of spending all that time traveling, we’re able to channel it into a much better and fruitful manner.”
Once he got the league started and began recruiting players, Reddy said they have received tremendous support. Dozens of new players, many who didn’t know anyone else in the league, turned out to play simply because they loved the game.
And, he got to widen his circle of friends, too.
“When I initially came here to Cedar Rapids, I hardly had four or five people who I knew,” Reddy said. “But once I started playing cricket here, a whole new circle (of friends) started. So I’m hoping that when people come to join, everybody starts to know everybody and the friendship circle grows.”
Now that they have an opportunity to play competitively close to home, Reddy said he can only see the game growing in Iowa. Several people wanting to join the league have already contacted him, and he hopes to expand it to six or eight teams for next season.
So while the sport might not be the most popular in the Midwest, or even the country, the passion for the game certainly is high — and the Corridor Cricket League is only going to improve.
“That’s the whole reason why we organized this,” Chatterjee said. “We want the best of cricket to be in this area, and not go somewhere else. We want to build up a community of cricket, because you need something that will survive for a long time to come. What we have is great, but we want to improve it. We want to increase the contribution and the commitment level of everyone else.”