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Immigrants Bring Cricket to California


For many Americans, summer is synonymous with softball. But on many of Northern California's sprawling green lawns, a new game is being played. Or rather, a very old game has been resurrected: the English sport of cricket.

It's a typical summer Saturday in Davis: the mercury is again up in record high territory... definitely not the ideal weather for cricket. With games typically lasting five or six hours, players bake under the midday sun, elegantly dressed in their long white pants. But these marathon matches are eagerly welcomed by the players out here.

"Cricket is a disease in our country," says Dan Sahadeo, who came to California from his native Guyana in the late 1970's. "Everybody is playing, backyard, side yard, streets, wherever. You play cricket all day long. You use the coconut bats, and the oranges and guavas and everything as the ball. You play all day long."

Mr. Sahadeo is considered the godfather of cricket in Davis. Like most everyone out here on the cricket pitch, he's from one of the world's cricket-obsessed nations: the former British colonies of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the islands of the West Indies, and Australia.

Mr. Sahadeo says, 25 years ago, he could barely find enough players to field a team. "In the olden days, I used to be one of the key players in the team, and I'm not much of a cricketer. Today, I barely make the team because the talent has grown."

That's because the influx of computer engineers and high-tech workers from South Asia has made Northern California a hotbed for cricket. But these men play a distinctly American form of cricket, hard to imagine back home: Indians and Pakistanis -- their countries fierce political rivals -- warm up together, and play on the same team.

It's a situation that amazed Jay Kashalikar, 27, when he arrived in California from India four years ago. "They were playing so easily, just one team, and all of a sudden from the scoresheets and stuff like that, then I got to know that he's a Pakistani, he's an Indian, and he's a Sri Lankan," Mr. Kashalikar recalls. "That's really good to see. I mean it's a good change. And I guess this is a nice example for people back home that the game is important and not the nations," he adds chuckling.

Cricket is similar to what's often called America's national game, baseball, but only in that there are two opposing teams and a ball. For the novice, it's positively confusing to watch.

Just ask Bruce Solper, a retiree from Arizona who was passing by and stayed to watch the game. "I listen to the BBC "Newsnight" and get to hear these cricket scores and it's always been such a mystery, that I thought it was only intelligent to find out what the game was about," Mr. Solper says. But he admits that after two hours watching, "it's going to take more than one game" to solve the mystery of cricket.

While most of the players out here look like they're from the Indian subcontinent or the West Indies, there are a few exceptions. Ted Fons grew up playing popular sports like soccer and baseball in New Jersey. But he stumbled across cricket about 10 years ago and made the switch.

"There's a certain elegance to cricket I enjoy," Mr. Fons says. "When the field is set in a certain way and the guys… everybody is dressed in white, it's sort of elegant to watch. And also to watch a guy batting very well. It's really exciting. There's just something about it.

And while the competition is serious out here, for most of the players, the important thing is just being here. "It's the connectivity, taking ourselves back to our islands, and that kind of thing, not geographically, but from a mental standpoint," says Simon Ramsubhag who adds these Saturday afternoons take him back to his youth in Trinidad and Tobago. "It's a bridge. Being in a foreign land... this sport can bridge us back to our islands."

The cricketers of Northern California will be playing through the end of September.

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