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Nonprofit seeks to bring cricket to Barethaven Park

shutterstock_114007321Cricket anyone?

That question may be answered with an emphatic “yes” soon in Dardenne Prairie if city officials go along with building a cricket “pitch” or two in the city’s parks. The city has received a request from the nonprofit American Cricket Academy and Club of St. Louis for several pitches that would allow young people to practice and play.

Mayor David Zucker told the city’s Board of Aldermen at its Feb. 3 work session that the academy is willing to share the cost of laying out concrete for the cricket pitches possibly alongside soccer fields at Barethaven Park. The pitches would be used when no one is playing soccer.

The board took no action on the request at its meeting, but Zucker and board members said they want to see if there is a way to accommodate the sport at the city’s parks.

Cricket, one of the most popular sports in the world, is a bat-and-ball game played by teams of 11 players on a rectangle 22-yard field or pitch, as it is called. The sport shares some terminology with baseball because a batter strikes a ball to score runs during innings. And its advocates, like baseball fans, are passionate about their sport.

“It’s not just a game, it’s a religion,” said Ajay Jhamb, a spokesperson for the academy and a Dardenne Prairie resident. He noted that the sport may be second only to soccer in its popularity. “It’s truly international and multicultural.”

Cricket, like soccer, squash, billiards, curling, soccer and, yes, baseball, can trace its roots back to British Isles. And with the recent influx of professionals from India, Pakistan and other parts of Asia working at local companies, it could became another export like the Beatles, Harry Potter, fly fishing and British cuisine. Bangers and mash? Maybe not.

Jhamb said the love of cricket came with those international professionals and adult leagues have formed in St. Charles, O’Fallon and Maryland Heights. He and other players formed the academy – one of several local efforts – to teach their children and young people throughout the area about the game. The Missouri Youth Cricket Association, formed in 2012, plays in St. Charles and Manchester.

The academy program began with seven children last July, practicing at pitches in O’Fallon.

“Now we’re up to 86,” Jhamb said. “We have not advertised yet, we have no flyers, no brochures whatsoever. We have grown up so big and so quick in the winter that we are practicing in St. Peters.”

He said if everything is approved with Dardenne Prairie and “we have the grounds this summer we will have 120 and 150 kids.”

He also sees the potential for more adult leagues.

“St. Louis has the potential to be a cricket hub,” he said. “Imagine if we do things right, we just started six months back – how far we can take this game.”

The academy charges no fees and every month, players and coaches must be involved in a community service project such as raising money for recent flood victims, making sandwiches for the homeless, or raising money for the USO.

“We’re building the whole personality of a kid, it’s just not ‘OK, this is a new game you can play and then go home,’” Jhamb said. “We are going to teach the right values.”

In India, Jhamb said students have to choose between their studies and the game. He choose his studies, quitting cricket for a while at age 16, but he’s never lost his love for a game that he says helped to mold his success.

“I feel strongly that coming to this country from India 15 years back and being successful in what I’m doing in the corporate world, I feel this sport has built me that way,” Jhamb said. “This sport requires a lot of thinking, a lot of strategy. There is no coach, everything happens on the field, the captain and players decide who is going to pitch, who is going to do what and when.”

Plus, players needn’t be large or particularly powerful.

“You can be a little guy and you’ll be hitting a 6-feet tall pitcher or bowler because you have a good bat in your hand,” Jhamb said, noting that the sport that belongs in the United States. “This sport used to be played by our founding fathers. George Washington, that’s what he used to play.

“To me, it’s our lost sport, we need to bring it back.”







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