With the 2023 Cricket World Cup currently underway in India, ten teams are battling it out for championship glory in a sport that originated in 17th-century Britain but is now most popular in former British colonies like India, Pakistan, Australia and South Africa. Cricket was once even popular in America, with some reports suggesting George Washington himself might have been an avid cricket player. 

Lexington residents playing cricket at the Center Track & Field.

Cricket is a bat and ball sport. Two teams play each other on a grass field, with one trying to score as many runs as possible and then hoping to get the other team’s players out before that team scores one more run than their own total. Not very different from baseball but with its own intricacies and terminology. But cricket, at least in the past, did come with a heavy disadvantage to those with short attention spans — standard games were long, typically lasting 5 days, with newer versions introduced in the mid-20th century still lasting an entire day. It is only in the past decade or so that a fast-paced, shorter version called Twenty20 (T20) cricket has captivated the hearts and minds of young and old alike. And this version is finding a resurgence in American immigrant communities.

In the US, an even more exciting version has emerged, dubbed “night cricket.” Leading the charge is the Greater Boston Cricket Foundation, a Lexington-based group, which just concluded its first recreational night cricket season, played on synthetic turf fields with a soft ball. With games lasting just two hours and conveniently scheduled on weeknights, this format has become a night-time haven for people of all backgrounds to unwind from their busy lives. These late hours cater really well to parents and working adults who are juggling many responsibilities during the day and attending to their kid’s activities over the weekend.

The response to this version has been overwhelming, says Kartik Shah, founder and director of the group. “It’s been fantastic to meet so many people from around the world who now live and work in neighboring towns,” he says. The group has expanded rapidly, starting with just a handful of players last year to nearly 6 teams totaling about 100 participants this year. They expect to easily double next year, but field space is a bottleneck. “The feedback we got from people is that quality matters more than quantity,” Shah says, “so we are going to maintain our focus on providing a seamless, fair and consistent experience to all participants.”

The Greater Boston Cricket Foundation underscored the league’s focus on the “Three Fs” of fun, fitness and friendship within the community. In this recreational setting, sportsmanship and enjoyment always take precedence. Night cricket league is buzzing with energy, featuring participants from a vibrant tapestry backgrounds, ages and cultures. 

Chris Tatnall, a Lexington resident, reminisces about playing backyard cricket with his father in England, and how he had to be careful not to hit his dad’s precious vegetables. These nostalgic recollections are what inspired many players to join the league. 

Suman Singh, a player from Newton, recalls his years and growing up with cricket in India, where he and his friends would “find any excuse to grab a bat and ball and play for hours, anywhere we could find some space, be it the school playground, an open terrace or parking lot.” Singh says that the most unexpected thing playing in this league was “the enthusiasm and passion, even after being away from the sport for so many years.” 

“The overall sense of belonging is amazing,” he says.

Cricket offers a fascinating blend of excitement and frustration that keeps even viewers hooked. Even in countries like the US where cricket is less popular, it’s hard to resist the game’s allure, because it’s more than just a sport: it’s a shared experience that brings fans together across cultures and even borders. Sure there are some heated rivalries — some historic in nature, like Australia and England, others more geopolitical, like India and Pakistan. But beyond the competition, it’s a game that unites people, transcending differences and fostering a sense of belonging and identity. 

Adil Waqar grew up in Pakistan, where tape ball cricket is popular (electric tape wrapped around a tennis ball and then used for cricket). He now lives in North Grafton, but travels to Lexington to participate in not just the games but also the executive committee. “The biggest inspiration for me was the presence of several friends in this league with whom I’ve been playing recreational cricket for over a decade now,” Waqar says. “To me, cultivating those strong bonds of friendship while also making new connections through the game of cricket was the biggest motivation to come to these night cricket sessions week after week.” 

The foundation is striving to broaden its horizons and ensure that cricket becomes a more inclusive and accessible experience for everyone. Players within the league express their aspirations for a more diverse community with a particular emphasis on youth training and greater participation from women. Given that many players are parents themselves, there’s a special interest in creating opportunities for kids. To this end, the Greater Boston Cricket Foundation is planning initiatives aimed at introducing children aged around six to ten years to the sport. 

Challenges arise when it comes to securing field space for cricket, given the unique nature of the cricket pitch. “LexRec has been a wonderful ally and we look forward to working with them to address these bottlenecks,” Shah says.

For now, it looks like the original bat and ball sport will have to be content with sharing multi-use turf field space, but it does not seem too far in the future that the Greater Boston metro area could boast of a dedicated cricket stadium all for itself.

Saisha is a senior at Lexington High School and lives with her family in Lexington. She is a keen cricket enthusiast and has attended several of the night cricket games with her dad, Atul Gupta, who plays on one of the teams.

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