Bowling For A Comeback: Cricket Makes Its Bid For The Big Time
On a pristine field at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, 22 men in white pants and cable-knit sweaters take their places. They may be gathered in the U.S. today, but most of the men grew up playing in countries where cricket is serious business.
Tobago, Guyana, India, Scotland — they come from all over. But here, at least, there isn't exactly an abundance of experienced players around. So when they find them, they scoop them up.
That's how Aussie David Anstice got recruited by a teammate.
"I said, 'How do you know I can even play?' He said, 'You're Australian aren't you?' " Anstice recalls. "I said, 'How do you know I'm any good?' He said, 'If you've only got one eye you'll work on our team!' "
The pickings didn't use to be so slim. Though it's a mystery to many Americans these days, the sport was once as big as any game in the U.S. And in fact — with its bat and ball, and a scoring system based on runs — cricket even looks a little like baseball, America's famous pastime.
That's partly why people like Tom Culp see potential in bringing the sport back.
"There are about 25,000 cricket players in the United States," says Culp, who helps organize an international cricket festival in Philadelphia every year. "And largely on the two coasts, with pockets in Colorado, Texas of all places."
That's exactly where the Cricket All-Stars will be playing. Two dream teams of retired greats, the Cricket All-Stars are trying to bring the wicket back into the spotlight, with a three-game tournament in New York City, Houston and Los Angeles, where they'll be playing this weekend at Dodger Stadium.
Among the players are two of the sport's biggest stars: Shane "The King of Spin" Warne of Australia, and India's Sachin "Master Blaster" Tendulkar — the sport's most famous batter.
"I have to watch Sachin," says Samar Jha, a Philadephia Cricket Club player who has box seats to one of the games. "I have been following his game since childhood. If you go to India and you say 'Sachin Tendulkar,' then he's God. He is next to God."
Now, whether that deity status brings fans is another matter. It's hard to tell with the crowds so far; New York's match drew 30,000 fans, in Houston about 25,000.
Philadelphia player Andy Bhattacharya doesn't think the All-Star matches are likely to win skeptics over. But he's holding out hope for the short-format games popular today - the kind the All-Stars are playing now.
"A lot of cricket matches get to the last pitch. You get goose bumps and your hair is standing and you're wondering what is going to happen," he says. "If ever the American public gets a taste of that, that will be the day that this sport will arrive in this country."
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