The game of cricket has taken hold in Texas’ largest city as a culture of competitive sports meets a growing South Asian population.
WHY WE ARE HERE
We are exploring how America defines itself, one place at a time. A cricket complex on the outskirts of Houston is home to young players and professionals alike, reflecting the growing popularity of the sport in a changing city.
J. David Goodman and Meridith Kohut watched cricket in Prairie View, Texas, and attended the first major league cricket draft in Houston.
Drive northwest of Houston, and as cow pastures fight to reclaim the flat expanse of the city’s tentacled sprawl, suddenly, improbably, many, many cricket grounds spring up along the road.
Head south to find a small cricket stadium nestled in the suburbs, or west to find fields sprouting in county parks.
A contest of patience and athleticism of bat, ball and wicket that was born in Britain and barely understood by most Americans, the game of cricket has made a surprising entrenchment in the land of Friday night soccer. A growing population of South Asian immigrants around Houston and Dallas imported their favorite sport into their adopted home, where they have grown up in a Lone Star culture of competition in all things, especially sports.
The rapid rise of cricket in Houston drew international attention and helped make Texas the launching pad for the sport’s first professional league in the United States, Major League Cricket, whose inaugural season began Thursday outside Dallas.
“One of the unknown things about Houston is the diversity of the population of many countries that play cricket,” said Tim Cork, deputy consul general at the British consulate in Houston. “There are Indians, there are Pakistanis, obviously there are a lot of Brits here, Australian accents everywhere you go.”
The number of people of Indian descent in Texas has doubled over the past decade to half a million, according to estimates from the Census Bureau’s annual survey, including 73,000 in Harris County, which includes Houston, and 64,000 in the suburbs. of Fort Bend County.
“When I came to this country, the only sport I knew about was cricket,” said Fort Bend County judge KP George, who immigrated to the US from India in 1993. When he was elected in 2018, none of the county parks had a cricket ground, he said. There are now seven, and each one is reserved for play months in advance.
“There is a great demand,” he said. “We are working on a couple more fields.”
The pace of the development of the sport in Houston has surprised even those who have been working to make it happen.
Houston hosted a player draft for the new professional league in March at the Johnson Space Center, one of the city’s largest tourist sites. In the fields northwest of Houston, the league’s newest teams met this month. for training camps.
“We always thought we would build it slowly,” said Mangesh Chaudhari, 38, owner of the Prairie View Cricket Complex who, beginning in 2018, oversaw the task of flattening a strip of farmland about 50 miles northwest of the city in six. oval cricket pitches. “Suddenly cricket got better.”
The location, along a major highway in Prairie View, Texas, offered the right kind of loamy soil for the grass pitch where cricketers bowl and bat, and free advertising for passing cars on Route 290. from USA
The project, conceived and financed by a Houston businessman, Tanweer Ahmed, was a bet by Field-of-Dreams that if they built it, people would come. It worked better and faster than they had anticipated, Chaudhari said, adding that the complex was still a work in progress. For example, there are still no lights or permanent toilets.
On a weekday in June, dozens of cars entered the cricket complex. Young players arrived from Atlanta and Dallas for a youth tournament, lugging large bags of bats and pads against the rising heat.
“Good luck guys! Good luck! Play hard!” Golam Nowsher, 61, yelled at his Houston-area teenage players as they took the field.
Mr. Nowsher emigrated from Bangladesh, where he had been a star player, and has been coaching young cricketers in Houston. He watched his team bat at the start of what would be a five-hour or so match, joking about cricket and his careers with the players, who huddled in the stands under a small square of shade.
“Who is going to study AI?” she asked.
“I am studying computer science,” said one player.
“I thought you were going to be a doctor?” replied Mr. Nowsher.
As team captain Arya Kannantha, 17, waited his turn to bat, he said he had been thinking about college and also trying to make the US national team despite the growth of cricket in Houston, a few of her classmates in suburban Katy, home to one of the largest and most expensive high school football stadiums on the field—were familiar with cricket.
“Not many people at my school play it,” Arya said. He added, laughing: “They just think it’s baseball, but weird.”
Far from being a curiosity, cricket is a passion in the burgeoning South Asian community of Texas and is poised to become big business, attracting major local investors, including Ross Perot Jr., the businessman and son of the ex independent presidential candidate. Mr. Perot, along with his business partner, Anurag Jain, owns the local major league team, the Texas Super Kings.
Perot said he recently discussed cricket with Governor Greg Abbott during a visit by former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I want you to know that we will bring cricket to this state,’” Perot said. “He was shocked, and he loved it.”
Mr. Jain, who grew up playing cricket in Chennai, India, and now lives in Dallas, encouraged investment in the fledgling US professional league, citing the sport’s large international following and large fan base. in Texas. “They will tell you that food is a way to get to a man’s heart,” Jain said. “Cricket is the way to the heart of a South Asian. It’s more than a sport, it’s a way of life.”
The arrival of cricket has given hope to some leaders in Prairie View, home of the historic black state university, Prairie View A&M, that the tournaments will become a source of revenue for the cash-strapped city, even though it has Few cricket fans or South Asian residents.
“Our position is to help them, to help them grow,” said Kendric Jones, county commissioner and college graduate. “It is a tourist attraction.”
On a night in March, hundreds of people gathered at the Johnson Space Center for the Major League Cricket player draw.
Inside, under suspended satellites and astronaut suits, cricket fans and investors in the league’s six inaugural teams, based in New York, Seattle, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Texas, mingled with the young players. potentials.
Harmeet Singh, who grew up playing in Mumbai and was drafted first, recently moved from Seattle to a big house in Katy, a suburb of Houston.
“As for the weather, I can play more here,” said Singh, 30, standing with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. “It was an improvement: we were in an apartment in Seattle for the same price.”
Standing in the back of the museum room, next to a large space capsule and a table of mini-burgers, were many of the people who helped develop the sport in Houston, including Yogesh Patel, 75, who founded a cricket club after arriving in the city. nearly five decades ago.
“It seems that what I dreamed of in 1976 has come true,” he said, looking around. “Houston has become the cricket capital of the USA”