The game of cricket has taken hold in the largest city of Texas as the culture of sporting competition meets a growing South Asian population.
WHY WE ARE HERE
We’re exploring how America defines itself, one place at a time. A cricket complex outside of Houston is home to both young and professional players, a testament to the sport’s growing popularity in an ever-changing city.
J. David Goodman and Meridith Kohut watched cricket in Prairie View, Texas and participated in the first major league cricket draft in Houston.
Drive northwest out of Houston, and as the cow pastures battle the flat expanse from the city’s sprawling sprawl, suddenly, improbably, many, many cricket pitches arise along the way.
Head south to find a small cricket stadium nestled in the suburbs, or west to find fields sprouting in county parks.
The game of cricket – a contest of patience and athleticism born in Britain and little understood by most Americans – has surprisingly caught on in the land of Friday night football. A growing South Asian immigrant population around Houston and Dallas imported their favorite sport into their adopted home, where it grew up amid a culture of Lone Star competition in all things, especially sports.
The rapid rise of cricket in Houston has garnered international attention and helped make Texas the launching pad for the sport’s first American professional league, Major League Cricket, whose inaugural season kicked off Thursday outside Dallas.
« One of the things that is unknown about Houston is the diversity of the population of many of the countries where cricket is played, » said Tim Cork, deputy consul general at the British consulate in Houston. « There are Indians, Pakistanis, there’s obviously a huge number of Brits here, Australian accents wherever you go. »
The number of people of Indian descent in Texas has doubled in the past decade to half a million, according to estimates from the Census Bureau’s annual survey, including 73,000 in Harris County, which includes Houston, and 64,000 in suburban Fort County. Bend.
« When I came to this country, the only sport I knew was cricket, » said KP George, a Fort Bend county judge who immigrated to the United States from India in 1993. When he was elected in 2018, none of the county parks had a cricket ground, he said. There are now seven, and each one is reserved to play months in advance.
« There’s a huge demand, » he said. « We’re working on a couple more fields. »
The pace of sports development in Houston surprised even those who worked to bring it about.
Houston hosted a player draft for the new pro league in March at the Johnson Space Center, one of the city’s largest tourist sites. In the fields northwest of Houston, the new league teams gathered this month for training camps.
« We always thought we were going to build it slowly, » said Mangesh Chaudhari, 38, owner of the Prairie View Cricket Complex who, as of 2018, oversaw the task of flattening a swath of farmland about 50 miles north -west of the city in six oval cricket grounds. « Suddenly, cricket got up. »
The location, along a major highway in Prairie View, Texas, offered both the right kind of clay soil for the grass field where cricketers played bowls and bats, as well as free advertising for passing cars on US Route 290.
The project, conceived and funded by Houston businessman Tanweer Ahmed, was a dream bet that if they built it, people would come. It worked better and faster than they had anticipated, Mr Chaudhari said, adding that the complex was still a work in progress. For example, there are still no permanent lights or bathrooms.
One weekday in June, dozens of cars poured into the cricket compound. Young players drove in from Atlanta and Dallas for a youth tournament, lugging big bags of clubs and pads in the growing heat.
« Good luck guys! Good luck! Playing hard!” Golam Nowsher, 61, yelled at his Houston-area teenage players as they took the field.
Mr. Nowsher immigrated from Bangladesh, where he had been a star player, and coached junior cricketers in Houston. He watched his team batting at the start of what would be a five-hour match, joking about cricket and careers with the players, who huddled in the bleachers under a small square of shade.
« Who will study artificial intelligence? » she asked.
« I’m studying computer science, » said one player.
« I thought you were going to be a doctor? » Mr Nowsher replied.
As 17-year-old team captain Arya Kannantha waited for his turn to bat, he said he had been thinking about college and also trying to make a US national team. Despite the growth of cricket around Houston, few of his classmates in suburban Katy, home to one of the larger and more expensive high school football stadiums in the country – they were familiar with cricket.
“Not many people at my school play it,” Arya said. He added, laughing, « They just think it’s baseball, but weird. »
Far from a curiosity, cricket is a passion in Texas’ burgeoning South Asian community and is poised to become big business, attracting prominent local investors including Ross Perot Jr., the businessman and son of the first independent presidential candidate. Mr. Perot, along with his business partner, Anurag Jain, is the owner of the local major league team, the Texas Super Kings.
Mr Perot said he recently discussed cricket with Governor Greg Abbott during a visit by former British prime minister, Boris Johnson. “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I want you to know that we are bringing cricket to this state’,” Perot said. « He was shocked and he loved it. »
Mr. Jain, who grew up playing cricket in Chennai, India, and now lives in Dallas, has encouraged investment in the fledgling US professional league, citing the sport’s huge international following and large fan base in Texas. “They will tell you that food is a gateway to a man’s heart,” Mr. Jain said. “Cricket is the way to the heart of a South Asian. It’s more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle. »
The arrival of cricket has given hope to some leaders of Prairie View, home to the historic black state university, Prairie View A&M, that tournaments will become a revenue stream for the cash-strapped city, even if it has few cricket fans or South Asian Residents.
« Our position is to help them, help them grow, » said Kendric Jones, county commissioner and college graduate. “It’s a tourist attraction.”
On a March evening, hundreds of people gathered at the Johnson Space Center for the draft of Major League Cricket players.
Inside, under hovering satellites and astronaut suits, cricket fans and investors in the league’s six inaugural teams – based in New York, Seattle, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Texas – mingled with young potential players.
Harmeet Singh, who grew up playing in Mumbai and was picked first overall in the draft, recently moved from Seattle to a large house in the Katy suburb of Houston.
« Time-wise, I can play more here, » said Mr Singh, 30, standing with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. « It was an upgrade: We were in an apartment in Seattle for the same price. »
At the back of the museum hall, next to a large space capsule and a table of small hamburgers, were many of the people who helped develop the sport in Houston, including 75-year-old Yogesh Patel, who founded a cricket after arriving in the city nearly five decades ago.
“It looks like what I dreamed of in 1976 has come true,” he said, looking around. « Houston has become a cricketing capital of the United States »