CUPERTINO (Silicon Valley): The next generation of Bay Area cricket players began learning the fundamentals of bowling, batting and fielding on Saturday while their parents — mostly South Asians — watched their children try out the sport that runs through their blood and reminds them of home.
“In India, cricket is definitely a religion,” said Hemant Buch, the Gujarat, India-born founder of the California Cricket Academy, which organizes youth leagues in Cupertino, Fremont and San Jose’s Evergreen area.
The nonprofit organization celebrated its 10-year anniversary on Saturday by sponsoring a free cricket coaching clinic for more than 55 young children in the park next to the Cupertino Library, which now has a permanent cricket “pitch” installed thanks to the efforts of Buch and his wife, Kinjal, the California Cricket Academy’s president.
Sanjeen Manoli, a Sunnyvale software engineer, grew up in Mumbai, India, playing cricket in college and wanted his 9-year-old son, Soham, to take up a sport in Silicon Valley.
Manoli insists he would have been happy if Soham had chosen, say, soccer or tennis. But when Soham told Manoli that he wanted to learn to play cricket just like his dad, Manoli was thrilled.
“In India, with 1.2 billion people, cricket is the most watched sport,” Manoli said. “It’s great.”
While adult cricket leagues have exploded around the Bay Area over the last decade, the Buchs focused instead on teaching the game of British colonialism to children, including their own sons, Arsh, now 18, and Mohak, now 14.
“At first, our goal was just to get 22 players so we could at least have two teams” of 11 players each, Hemant Buch said.
After 35 families showed up that first year, the Buchs knew they were on to something.
Today, the players and parents continue to represent mostly Indian and Pakistani heritages, with the occasional Australian or Brit thrown in. So the California Cricket Academy’s league play has come to represent a social networking opportunity for families from similar backgrounds.
But the Buchs continue to push for more diversity.
“We keep telling people, ‘Please bring at least one American kid with you next time,’ ” Hemant Buch said.
A handful of players out of the California Cricket Academy have gone on to play for the U.S. Under-15 Cricket Team. And Hemant Buch — who is chairman of youth development for the United States of America Cricket Association — each year takes a youth team to India to compete in an eight-match cricket tournament held over 12 days.
In the Bay Area, the association is now working with P.E. teachers in Fremont, Cupertino and Evergreen to incorporate cricket into their schools’ programs.
Teaching the fundamentals of cricket to kids who grew up on baseball is easy, said Anirudh Srinivas, 16, who was born in Bangalore, India.
Srinivas, who just finished the season as Monta Vista High School’s varsity soccer goalie, also has traveled to Manitoba, Canada, as the opening bowler for the U.S. Under-15 Cricket Team.
“Cricket is an amazing game,” Srinivas said. “If you can get people to relate it to baseball, it’s even easier.”
For wannabe cricket players raised on America’s pastime, the hardest part is learning to adjust their pitching, er, bowling motion to represent a whip-like arc.
Otherwise, the fundamentals of hitting, fielding and scoring are pretty basic.
But during his first day of formal instruction from certified cricket coaches on Saturday, Soham Manoli, a third-grader at Stocklmeir Elementary School in Cupertino, already knew what aspects of cricket he was good at.
“I like batting,” he said. “I’m not very good at bowling, and I’m not very good at fielding. But I’m good at batting.”
The coaches and organizers of the California Cricket Academy will continue to work with the neophyte players and will organize them into competitive teams for league play that begins March 24.
Mahesh Nihalani, a Cupertino Chamber of Commerce director who was raised in Shimla, India, beamed as he watched the coaches put their young players through a series of drills on Saturday designed to make them fundamentally sound cricket players.
“Cricket is in our blood,” Nihalani said. “We were born watching cricket and loving cricket. So this feels good — very, very good.”
(Courtesy Mercury News)