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THE NEXT GENERATION LEARNS TO PLAY CRICKET

On his trips to India, Gaurva Ambekar would watch cricket matches. When he returned home, he and a friend would go into the back yard of his Saratoga home and whack a tennis ball with a cricket bat.This month in San Jose, the 14-year-old Saratoga High School freshman was captain of a cricket team that competed in an under-15 tournament against a contingent from New York. The team is part of the California Cricket Academy -- the Bay Area"s first organization dedicated to recruiting and developing cricket players ages 6 to 14."Our team played really well, but the New York team was better than us", Gaurva said. "In a few more years we"ll be as good as them".Cricket matches involve two teams of 11 players each on an oval field. Although the rules and equipment are very different from baseball, the basic description sounds the same. A player from one team (a bowler) throws the ball toward a player from the other team holding a bat (a batsman). Players try to score runs after the ball is hit. Teams trade off innings.

The teams agree beforehand how long they"ll play. While professional cricket matches are five six-hour days, the kids play a single three-hour match.The popularity of cricket among adults has continued to grow in the Bay Area with the burgeoning Indo-American population. But a viable youth cricket program didn"t exist until the CCA was created in July 2003 by Hemant Buch, a South Bay computer engineer from India.When the CCA was formed, Buch announced his intention to produce high-quality cricket players, stating,"We are trying to start a strong parent base like the Little League baseball and soccer leagues have in the United States".Buch"s lofty dreams for the sport have a very long way to go. CCA has grown to around 70 players and the program has trained more than 100 youngsters through league play and clinics. Most players are Indo-American, although the clinics have also attracted others, sometimes recruited by their friends who are cricket enthusiasts.

The academy, with the help of the city and the Cupertino Union School District, has developed pitches (fields) behind the Cupertino Library on Torre Avenue and at Dilworth School in San Jose. It also has a pitch in Fremont.In June, CCA held two free clinics on the basics of cricket batting and bowling (pitching) skills. That was followed by a Summer Youth Cricket League that ran from August through October. The CCA also hosted the Spice Hut Cup Tournament, an event for players 9 to 15 years of age that concluded with a championship match at the Cupertino pitch.Four players -- Cupertino"s Pranay Suri, Adhiraj Watave and Arsh Buch, and Sunnyvale"s Akash Jaganathan -- were selected to play for the United States in an All-Star game against Canada.Arsh Buch, 10, started playing cricket three years ago.

"I started watching the game when I was 4 or 5 years old. Then I went to India to watch it and it influenced me", said Arsh, a fifth-grader at Murdock-Portal Elementary School in Cupertino. "It looked like it was actually fun to play. I bowl, I bat and I field. It really is a fun sport to play".Most of the players are the American-born children of parents from cricket-playing countries. Next to soccer, cricket is the most played international team sport, claiming devotees from England to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and on to Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean.Laks Sampath, regional director of the United States of America Cricket Association, said the next goal is attracting more American-born, non-Asian players to cricket.

"In cricket-playing countries, inter-school cricket is a big thing. One day we"d like to introduce cricket into the schools here", Sampath said. "We need a critical mass of people who understand the game to bring in people currently interested in seeing their children play".Coach Owen Graham, a Jamaican-born international-level player, expects the interest in cricket to grow."I"m thrilled about cricket and the direction it"s going right now. I expect a whole lot of kids to move up from our program into higher competitive levels",said Graham, an accountant who lives in Oakland.

 

"Cricket"s a simple game, like baseball, even though you see players with a bat that looks like a paddle and is four inches wide, and even though you bounce the ball".

For further program and enrollment information, e-mail calcricket_academy@ yahoo.com or visit the California Cricket Academy's Web site at www.calcricket.org.


Contact Michael Cronk at mcronk@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5063.

Updated 06/06/2012 06:26:06