Indian pop ballads and the scent of curried vegetables wafted over Hal Bartholomew Sports Park on Saturday in Elk Grove, as cricket players shouted vigorously in Urdu from the sidelines.
Teams flocked from all over the state to play in the Elk Grove Cricket Tournament, a two-day event intended to highlight health, tradition and camaraderie among California’s South Asian community.
Cricket, an English bat-and-ball game played on a rectangular field, is a staple sport in many former British colonies, including Pakistan, India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Continuing to play the game after settling in the U.S. is one way that South Asian immigrants stay connected to their roots, said Kamran Malik, chairman of the Pakistani American Sports and Cultural Organization, the Elk Grove nonprofit behind the tournament.
“Our main goal is to promote the sport, provide healthy activities for our youth and connect with the interfaith community,” he said.
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The 15 teams playing in the weekend tournament hailed from the Sacramento region, the Bay Area, Southern California and beyond. Their rosters were filled with men from many different home countries – India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka – all seeking an outlet for a game they played on the streets.
Cricket is the world’s second-most popular sport after soccer. Though Americans largely dismissed it after the 18th century, it’s made a comeback in recent years with the influx of South Asian immigrants. Malik estimates the community is about 50,000 strong in the Sacramento metropolitan area.
There are already cricket grounds in Roseville, Natomas, West Sacramento and elsewhere, and Malik’s organization is working to introduce the sport to the Elk Grove School District. The second tournament, which is not associated with a formal league, is open to any cricket team and serves to raise awareness about the sport. The event is scheduled in April to align with the Cricket World Cup and Pakistan Day, both in late March.
The game most resembles baseball, with a line of batters making hits and scoring runs, but with a few twists. Cricket bats are flat and the balls are bouncy, making for higher lobs and a distinct absence of “thwack” on contact. Pitches must be thrown with a straight arm, and each 11-player team gets only one inning to score as many runs as possible.
For Naveed Anwar, a player on the Bay Area team that won the Elk Grove tournament last year, playing cricket is a way to revisit a childhood passion. Anwar, who grew up in Pakistan, lives in San Jose and practices with his Punjab 11 mates in Santa Clara. He also teaches the sport to his two children.
“Cricket is kind of like a second religion in our country,” he said. “I want my kids, when they go back home, to see their cousins and not feel alienated. Otherwise, they’ll be bouncing a basketball around and only get two kids to play with them.”
On the tournament’s sidelines, Indian and Pakistani vendors sold traditional food and clothing while crowds cheered “Shabash!” the Urdu word for “well done.”
The sporting event is a way to break barriers between different communities, said organizer Rashid Ahmad, nodding to a Sikh player alongside a Muslim teammate. The theme of this year’s tournament was “Friendship Through Cricket.”
“When they’re playing cricket, they all become the same,” he said. “They become teammates, laughing and enjoying the game.”
Consul Qamar A. Khokhar, of the consulate general of Pakistan in Los Angeles, said he would love to see more cricket being played in the U.S. He drove up to Elk Grove with a team of players Friday night.
“It’s a very healthy activity, and we are proud that Pakistani people are participating,” he said. “We want them to be integrated into the American social texture.”
Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.
Elk Grove Cricket Tournament
When: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. today
Where: Hal Bartholomew Sports Park, 10150 Franklin High Road, Elk Grove
Info: (916) 588-8383