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Make room on road for cricket moms

If cricket moms have their way, someday soon Bay Area mothers won't be schlepping their kids to a soccer match or Little League game across town. Instead, they'll drop them at a neighborhood cricket pitch, where youngsters can suit up in white and play a civil game that doesn't require blinding speed, hulking size or naked aggression.Cricket, the Old World forerunner of American baseball introduced centuries ago by British colonists, is a growing obsession among transplanted Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Caribbean islanders, South Africans, New Zealanders and Australians.In the Bay Area, the number of cricket clubs has exploded in the past half-dozen years, and the growing demand for places to play -- notably among the large South Asian population -- has resulted in the creation of new pitches, or fields, from San Jose to Tracy.

More pitches means more room where cricket-playing immigrants can relax on weekends, but the game's most avid boosters are hoping for more: They want their beloved sport, which espouses "gentlemanly conduct,'' to rub off on the mainstream and serve as an antidote to a U.S. sports culture steeped in steroid scandals and rife with over-zealous parents screaming at their kids and threatening coaches

Draw of game

On a purely practical level, it's a game that should be attractive to Silicon Valley professionals and their families for the same reason that so many working South Asians like it."You have to be in good physical shape", said Giriraj Vengurlekar, 32, a Cisco engineer who helps run a club in Fremont. "But you don't have to be that muscular, which appeals to lots of us engineers".Today in the Bay Area, there are more players, more teams and more cricket pitches than ever before. At Vengurlekar's Fremont-based Tennisball Cricket Association, the number of teams has grown from eight in 1998 to more than 70 today. The Northern California Cricket Association, which played its first games in 1881, also has grown, from two dozen teams five years ago to nearly 40 today, said vice president Anupam Singh, 30, an Oracle software engineer.

Places to play

Just this week, the Fremont City Council asked its staff to consider whether unused lawns in Central Park can be turned into cricket fields. Advocates have convinced parks and recreation departments in San Ramon, Dublin and Tracy to open up city fields to make way for the ovals on which the match is played, which are 110 yards long and 80 yards wide. This year, there is talk of building a 25,000-seat facility at the Alameda County Fairgrounds that could host international matches for professional cricket teams.

Cricket star coming

In the South Bay, the venerable game already is something of a social phenomenon.This weekend, Indian cricket legend Kapil Dev will visit the Bay Area, raising money for charity and making rounds to local cricket clubs. On April 28, the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce will host a business social -- not with a traditional round of golf, but with a cricket match.There's also been movement to get school coaches on board to teach cricket in P.E. classes."Cricket teaches lots of discipline",said Kinjal Buch, an unabashed Indo-American cricket mom who religiously carts her two sons, Arsh, 10, and Mohak, 6, to weekend matches. "You can't shout. You have to respect the umpire. You've got to have self-control. Even the parents are supposed to be polite".Buch and her husband, Hemant, launched the Bay Area's first all-youth cricket league, the California Cricket Academy, in 2003. They started with 22 kids and now boast 90 players who bowl and bat at schools and parks in San Jose, Fremont and Cupertino. The academy's first all-girls clinic begins Monday on the cricket pitch next to the Cupertino library.Cricket -- an 18th-century game first played by the English elite as spectators sipped tea and ate sandwiches -- demands that the home team bring lunch for the away team, that both sides dress in white and that the opposing team applaud the rival captain and say "best of luck" to the first batter.

There is drama, to be sure. But it's scripted drama, almost Elizabethan. If players are struck with the ball, the rules allow for them to yell "howzzat" (how's that?) at the umpire, look dejected and even pick up a bit of mud. But if they glare at the umpire, they could be out of the game for six months; the team captain is punished for three.At a recent practice of 8- to 10-year-old boys at Dilworth Elementary School in San Jose, one young cricketer wanted the attention of his coach. "Coach. Hey. Hey. Hey!" the boy said.Swiftly, Hemant Buch stepped in. "Don't say 'hey' to the coach",Buch warned the boy."And when your coach is talking, you must listen".

More than 95 percent of the players in Bay Area cricket clubs are South Asian. And while some say making the game palatable to Americans will be rough -- a full game is played over five full days -- demands roughly the same manners and protocol as dinner with a head of state, and appears to the uninitiated about as exciting as watching paint dry -- there are a handful of Americans in the local player ranks, and reason to hope for the future.

Ryan Auer, 18, of Santa Clara, didn't grow up playing cricket, but happily made the switch."My Indian friends in high school introduced me to it," he said. "I used to play softball, and it's pretty similar. I think if Americans gave it a try, they'd find it enjoyable."

Updated 05/10/2012 13:15:34