Quick: list everything you know about cricket. If you’re a native-born American, chances are pretty good that the list is short. White clothes? Check. Weird bat? Check. Running back and forth? Check. While it may be relatively unknown in the U.S., cricket is one of the most popular sports in the world. Globally, it’s the second largest professional sport in the world just after soccer. Ex-pats of cricket-mad nations often struggle to find places to play in the U.S., and parks and recreation departments, particularly in larger cities, are increasingly offering facilities for cricket enthusiasts.
Immigration is driving cricket growth, and parks and recreation departments are responding. The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation is one of them. The division’s Web site maintains a list of fields suitable for cricket, including Van Cortland Park in the northwest Bronx, which has 12 fields, available to players (who must file a permit with the city to use the fields). Even Manhattan boasts a cricket-ready field at Randall’s Island Park, between East Harlem, the South Bronx and Astoria, Queens.
Neighboring Franklin Township in Somerset County, New Jersey recently approved plans to build a park, including two cricket fields, on part of a 108-acre tract of land the township purchased as open space in 1999. According to MyCentralJersey.com, cricket is becoming increasingly popular in Central Jersey due to the influx of South Asian immigrants, particularly those from India. The region is home to a Central Jersey league with 96 teams that include many first- and second-generation citizens playing for U.S. national teams.
To find purpose-built (and not just cricket-friendly) playing fields, however, players would need to travel to Florida. Evans Park in Seffner, near Tampa, is now home to the first designated cricket fields in the county. According to the Tampa Tribune, the new fields are home to the Tampa Cricket League, which played its first matches there in 2012 on open fields. The league now consists of 22 teams and about 340 players.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham championed the new cricket facilities but admits he doesn’t know much about the sport himself. Higginbotham told the Tampa Tribune that when foreign business and industry chiefs – often from India, where the sport is wildly popular -- inquire about relocating to Hillsborough County, they tend to ask about recreational facilities in the region, and cricket often comes up. Tampa has a large population of residents and visitors from India: last year, the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) hosted its premier awards ceremony, the so-called “Bollywood Oscars,” in Tampa.
Florida is also home to the only International Cricket Council-certified cricket stadium. The stadium at Central Broward Regional Park in Fort Lauderdale, which opened in 2008, hosted the first international cricket competition on American soil, a two-match Twenty20 series between New Zealand and Sri Lanka, in May 2010. While the U.S. is still slow to catch up – most Americans are unaware that the U.S. even has a national cricket team or a United States of America Cricket Association – immigration trends in the near future may help to raise the profile of the sport.