Game OnMar 01, 2023 ● By Stephen Hunt
by Stephen Hunt
By sheer numbers, cricket is the second most-popular sport in the world, trailing only soccer.
This up-and-coming sport, which many consider a hybrid of baseball and chess, is gaining popularity in the United States.
Cricket matches are played by a pair of teams that consist of 11 players who take to an oval-shaped field that features a rectangular middle (called a pitch) with wickets (three wooden stumps or stakes) stationed on each end of the field.
Bowlers (the baseball equivalent of pitchers) throw a ball that is nearly the same size as a baseball toward the batsman, who uses a wide bat to hit it. Batted balls that travel the length of the field score one point. Those that hit the outer wall on a bounce are worth four points, and batted balls that strike the wall on the fly score six points.
Batters are out if fielders catch a fly ball, if the bowler hits the batsman in the leg in front of the wicket, or if the wicket is struck before the batter runs to the other side of the field.
In July, Major League Cricket (MLC), the first professional U.S. cricket league, launches its inaugural season in Grand Prairie, home to one of MLC’s six teams.
Venky Gundlapally is a founder of the Frisco Community Cricket Association (FCCA). He sees the start of a U.S. pro league as a great sign for the sport.
“When the MLC comes and you see big international players with the teams, that will be a good step for cricket development,” he said.
Another sign of how popular cricket has become in North Texas: Nearby Plano is home to Lords Indoor Sports, the first indoor cricket facility in the nation, which opened in 2019.
Frisco is Sports City USA, home to the headquarters of the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys, National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars, Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas, the NBA G-League’s Texas Legends and the Frisco Roughriders, Double-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers. Cricket’s surging popularity furthers our city’s reputation.
In 2018, the City of Frisco started the Frisco Cricket League (FCL), which has grown from 28 teams prior to the pandemic to 42 teams during the current spring 2023 season, boasting about 1,000 participants.
Cricket’s growth here “is fantastic. It’s relatively new to Frisco,” said Steve Walsh, assistant director of Frisco Parks and Recreation, which oversees the FCL. “A large percentage of the Frisco population participates, and the youth involvement has taken off over the last four to five years.”
The sport “has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years,” he said. “We are updating our maintenance practices, looking at our inventory to find additional opportunities to provide teams chances to play.”
Walsh said he feels that the sudden surge in the popularity of cricket locally resembles what Frisco has seen previously with other sports. “We experienced similar challenges with soccer, football, baseball, softball and lacrosse approximately a decade ago,” he said. “One of the ways we try to solve this challenge is working with the local leagues.”
The Future of Cricket
Gundlapally is president of FCCA, an organization he and a fellow volunteer founded in 2019.
“This is the only nonprofit cricket academy in the DFW Metroplex. We work very closely with the City of Frisco to get ground allotted exclusively for the academy, and lights as well. … Frisco has four cricket grounds,” however B.F. Phillips Community Park is strictly used for youth cricket.
FCCA runs one of nine cricket youth academies in Dallas-Fort Worth, which combine to instruct 300 young cricketers. However, the FCCA academy, which teaches kids age 7-15, is the only nonprofit academy in the area.
“We are (currently at) around 70-plus kids,” down from as many as 140 initially. “But with the resources we have, it is very tough to accommodate those number of kids, so right now we are limited because we are working with the City of Frisco,” Gundlapally said. “The city said 80 percent of kids in the academy have to be from Frisco and 20 percent can be outsiders.”
Others have collaborated to also help grow cricket in Frisco.
In 2021, the Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple, CK Painting and Lords Indoor Sports donated cricket equipment to all Frisco ISD middle schools. The following year, sixth graders at Nelson Middle School took a three-week course in cricket, during which they learned the basics of batting, catching and wicketkeeping along with cooperation, teamwork and perseverance.
The sport of cricket is also experiencing changes as its popularity grows. In the past, cricket matches in Australia, the Caribbean, India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and other places where it is extremely popular have lasted for several days.
“That was old times. In those days, it was three days, four days (for some matches),” Gundlapally said. “It was more like a chess match.”
However, a new format, called T20, in which matches take less than four hours to complete, has become the norm in international play.
MLC will play its matches in this format that has each team limited to 20 overs (which is a series of six legally bowled balls). Once a team has exhausted its allotted number of overs, the other team will bat, with the winning team being the one that finishes with the most runs.
Gundlapally said the T20 format is “very popular. These matches last three-and-a-half hours, including breaks, because in current conditions, nobody has time to play for three or four days.”
Stephen Hunt is a longtime baseball fan who is intrigued by cricket.