Micah Benson | Art DirectorClub sports
Quiet tradition: Syracuse University cricket club remains popular with international students for more than 30 years
Omesh Gulati had plenty of experience playing cricket before he came to Syracuse. Growing up in India, Gulati played on his high school team for five seasons and served as captain.
“The practice was intense,” Gulati said. “Six hours long, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., twice a week. Year-round, too.”
Gulati and other Indian students didn’t stop playing once they came to Syracuse. The hours spent playing have decreased, but the love for the game remains. Syracuse has maintained a cricket club for more than 30 years, with the team playing matches against area schools such as Rochester Institute of Technology and Cornell. But it’s a challenge for cricket to gain popularity on college campuses and in a country not searching for another sport.
Club president Abhinanden Sambasivam estimates that 30 to 50 SU students, all Indian students in graduate programs, play in the club throughout the year. The club meets on weekends to practice, or to play if a match is scheduled. If students are around for the summer, the club carries on.
Some players even knew about the club before coming to Syracuse. Before deciding to come to central New York, second-year graduate student Mohit Desai attended an information session near his home in India to learn more about the school. He was given plenty of information, but only asked one question: if Syracuse had a cricket club.
The answer was yes.
Growing up, club members found cricket everywhere they looked. As the game is played on a hard surface, street corners would be filled with kids playing cricket after school in India, team captain Sumit Gangwani said.
With practices and matches throughout the year, cricket was a lifestyle for Gulati and other Indian students who played competitively growing up. In a way, even more than a lifestyle.
“It’s not a game,” Gangwani said. “It’s a religion.”
The Syracuse club doesn’t require the same type of commitment. But the team plays to win. The club defeated the Rochester Cricket Association in June, a team that competes against high-level clubs from Canada.
The taste of success leaves the players wanting more.
“We want to enter the state tournaments,” Gangwani said. “We feel that we’re a good team, and that we can compete. We always play the same teams, and we want to play different teams.”
But to expand the schedule requires money, and the club budget is currently allocated mostly toward equipment expenses. Cricket gear is inexpensive in India, where the sport is commonly played, but harder to find and pricier in America, Gangwani said.
The American College Cricket league has a Northeast division, featuring teams from area schools such as the University at Buffalo, Rutgers, Princeton and Harvard. The Syracuse team is eligible to play in the division, but lacks the funding to do the required traveling.
But joining the league is still the eventual goal for Gangwani and the team.
“Everyone at our school knows about football, knows about basketball,” Gangwani said. “We want to show ourselves and the school that we can play. We want the school to know about cricket.”
Recognition of the sport is not a problem in India. The country is filled with cricket stores similar to American sporting-goods stores, Gangwani said.
“Almost every kid in India loves cricket, and I dearly loved it. And it remains my favorite sport.”
Abhinanden Sambasivam , SU cricket club president
With the recent development of a shorter form of cricket, Twenty20, Sambasivam has seen Indian women and children take greater interest in a game known for matches that can last multiple days.
“The duration of play is a barrier,” Sambasivam said. “Besides people like me who are really crazy about the sport, nobody’s going to go and watch the five-day version.”
Regardless of game length, the already-saturated U.S. sports market is hard to break into, making it more difficult for cricket to take hold. Bob Wilson, director of student support services at Syracuse, grew up playing cricket in Northwest England near Liverpool and doesn’t see the game growing much in the United States.
For Wilson, cricket is hurt by the presence of a similar sport in America: baseball.
“Baseball is a throwing and hitting game here, so there’s really no need for cricket to emerge,” Wilson said. “It’s throwing, hitting and catching.”
Wilson was involved with the club when he attended Syracuse from 1970 to 1973, and continued the relationship when he returned to Syracuse to work in 1983. Now the club’s faculty adviser, Wilson no longer plays with the team, but handles the club’s relationship with SU Recreational Services.
He carries many memories, though. Wilson recalls a time in the 1980s when the club arranged a match with a team from Sodus Bay, a small village about 60 miles northwest of Syracuse.
On the way, he wasn’t quite sure what he was getting himself into.
“I’m in a car going to Sodus Bay, and I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way we can have a cricket match in Sodus Bay,’” Wilson said.
Wilson was surprised to find that the opponent consisted of a group of Caribbean immigrants who had played cricket back home and wished to keep playing.
The immigrants had come to Sodus Bay for the summer to pick fruit, and their summer leisure activity was to play cricket. They established a cricket ground with a few buildings that served as a locker room and a dining area.
Wilson doesn’t remember exactly how the match was arranged, but knows that he enjoyed the trip.
“We got curry to-go afterward,” Wilson said. “It was like being in the Caribbean; it was tremendous.”
Almost three decades later, the club remains intact, with Wilson and a new generation of students bringing their home sport to a new country. The sport may not have attained widespread appeal in Central New York, but that doesn’t keep the club from carrying on, year after year.
The club enjoys the sport, and that’s enough.
“Almost every kid in India loves cricket, and I dearly loved it,” Sambasivam said. “And it remains my favorite sport.”
Contact Kevin: firstname.lastname@example.org
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