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Cricket comes to Columbus, but it doesn’t chirp

Nadeem Khan, of the Columbus Cricket League, is an Indian immigrant who has lived in Columbus for 15 years. He is one of the players behind a project to install a cricket pitch at Alexander Park off Veterans Parkway.
Nadeem Khan, of the Columbus Cricket League, is an Indian immigrant who has lived in Columbus for 15 years. He is one of the players behind a project to install a cricket pitch at Alexander Park off Veterans Parkway. Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

It soon will be cricket season in Columbus.

And I’m not referring to that pesky insect that chirps.

I’m talking cricket that requires a bat, ball and wicket; a British-born sport played all over the world.

Though still pretty uncommon in Columbus, the game will soon be on full display at a local city park.

A group called the Cricket Community of Columbus is donating $10,000 for a synthetic cricket pitch to be installed at Alexander Park off Veterans Parkway. Columbus Council voted Tuesday to accept the donation, moving the project forward.

The pitch will be built at no cost to the city, according to a Parks and Rec memorandum to council.

Cricket is a sport akin to baseball. It’s very popular among immigrants from places such as India, Africa, Australia, England, Latin America and the Caribbean. In places like South Florida and New York, it beats baseball as the game of choice among many residents.

So I did a little investigating to see if there’s a growing interest in Columbus.

I spoke to Nadeem Khan, who is senior vice president over corporate development at Aflac. He is an Indian immigrant who has lived in Columbus for 15 years and one of the players behind the project.

“It is definitely flourishing,” he said of cricket in Columbus. “We’ve been playing for 10 years now, off the radar, and really haven’t gotten any attention.”

Khan said the Columbus Cricket League consists mainly of people from southeast Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. He said there also are Caribbean immigrants, foreign trainees from Fort Benning and CSU students from South Africa that play on occasion. The group plays at Alexander Park on Friday nights, and also will play on Saturdays and Sundays in spring and summer. And they have two local teams — the Columbus Strikers and the Columbus Tigers.

“We have about 50 or 60 Columbus residents who are committed to this,” Khan said. “We also host about four or five tournaments each year, where we invite teams from Georgia, Alabama and Florida.”

The group also organizes an annual summer cricket training camp that attracts approximately 30 to 35 local kids between the ages 6-14 years, according to information that Khan sent to the Ledger-Enquirer. This is a six-week program organized each year.

“Clearly, there is a growing interest in the United States for cricket,” Khan wrote. “There are many leagues throughout the U.S. for cricket. In Georgia, cricket has grown from 40 league teams in 2010 to 100 in 2016, an indicator that interest is growing.”

Parks and Rec Director Holli Browder said her department will continue to monitor the level of interest in the sport.

“Through the years, we’ve always had a steady group of people play cricket,” she said. “... If more people come out, then we will see how much interest there really is.”

So here’s a quick run-down for those interested in learning more about cricket:

Cricket is a game akin to baseball, but it can last anywhere from an afternoon to several days. It’s played on a field with a rectangular pitch in the center, which has a wicket made of three wooden stumps on each end.

The batting team tries to score as many runs as possible by hitting the ball around an oval field. The opposing team attempts to get them out by bowling the ball over the stumps. The team with the most point wins.

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter

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