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Cricket, anyone?

A few teens waited tensely in the outfield as a scrawny boy whacked the ball and then dashed off, holding his bat. As the outfielders scrambled for the ball, the boy raced back to home base, then away from it and back again. He continued this routine twice more.If this sounds like a baseball player gone mad, it's not. It's cricket, and its popularity is growing in the Bay Area -- in part because of the recent surge of South Asian immigrants.More than 143,000 Indo-Americans live in the Bay Area -- three times more than a decade ago, before many South Asians came to meet Silicon Valley's demand for technology workers.Cricket is one of the most popular games in countries such as India, England, Australia and Pakistan. But it has also been played for centuries in the United States.

"Cricket is one of the genuinely unknown aspects of American sports history", said Tom Melville, the author of two books about cricket in the United States. "People don't know that George Washington played cricket with his soldiers at Valley Forge".Aroon Vijaykar picked up his first cricket bat at 5, when he moved from Fremont to Bangalore, India. He quickly fell in love with the sport. When he returned to the United States five years later, he said he was disappointed that so few people played cricket.

"If it was such a famous sport in the rest of the world, I figured that the U.S. would have some kind of major league for cricket",he said.Aroon, 16, and his older brother, Nikhil, decided to do something about it. When Nikhil was at Saratoga High School three years ago, the brothers formed a cricket club at the school. The club started with fewer than 10 members and has grown to about 20, including a few girls and students who are not of South Asian descent. Aroon is the team captain.In recent years, students have created cricket teams at Homestead, Monta Vista, Bellarmine and Irvington high schools.The California Cricket Academy, a non-profit organization formed in 2003 to organize cricket games for youth, started out with 22 players. Participants practice twice a week and play games every weekend, including occasional tournaments as far away as Chicago and Toronto. Kinjal and Hemant Buch, the academy's founders, said they helped form the group because their 7-year-old son said he wanted to learn how to play cricket.

The Buchs said they expected a few kids would join that summer. But they got more than they expected, ended up hiring professional coaches and, this summer, the academy has 60 players ages 9 to 15.Most of the academy's players are of South Asian descent, but the Buch family has been distributing handouts at schools in the area to try to get others involved. Cricket enthusiasts have a vision that the game will become part of the mainstream American sports scene, much like soccer did a few decades ago, Melville said."Potentially, I suppose cricket could be the next soccer", Melville said. "Ten, 15, or 20 years from now, maybe we'll have cricket moms running around."

Updated 05/10/2012 13:14:59