By Joe Reavis
An international sporting flavor appeared in Dodd Park about a year ago, when the city of Wylie installed a cricket pitch, on which matches are now played most weekends.
Although not well known in the United States, cricket has a fierce following among area residents who moved here from countries that were formerly part of the British Empire, especially India, Pakistan and the Caribbean.
The Wylie Cricket Organization calls Dodd Park home as it competes as a member of the North Texas Cricket Association. The Wylie group boasts more than 50 players who compete on two teams: Desi Boyz and Blue Star. Desi designated a particular Hindi region of India and Blue Star references the Dallas Cowboys.
“We practice one day a week and we play every weekend,” Ashish Patel of Wylie, a member of Desi Boyz and native of India, said. “The city is working with us nicely. The main thing you have to have is a pitch.”
The pitch is the middle of the field or grou
nds, where the ball is bowled and hit, and the area where runs are scored. The Dodd Park pitch is a regulation 10 feet by 66 feet concrete pad covered with artificial turf with holes to drive the wickets, which are the aiming point for bowlers and which the batsmen defend.
The ground around the pitch is an oval of about a 65-yard radius, where 11 fielders are positioned to thwart the batsmen. Fielders can catch a ball in the air to dismiss (put out) a runner, or tag a wicket while a batsman is running. The bowler can pitch out a batsman by hitting the wickets, and the wicket keeper can “stump” out a batsman by tagging a wicket with the batsman out of position.
Cricket bears some similarities to baseball: a wicket keeper is a catcher; a bowler is a pitcher; batsmen are batters; dismissed is an out; both games employ bats and balls and both games are divided into innings.
“You can play anywhere. All you need is a bat and a ball,” Patel said.
Modern cricket was developed in the 1600s in England and, with 120 million players worldwide, is the second most popular game on Earth behind soccer. Cricket was popular in the United States before being supplanted by baseball in the late 1800s. The first international cricket match on record was between teams from the United States and Canada.
“It’s the only game in India that is highly popular,” Patel said, noting that he has played cricket since childhood and has continued since moving to Wylie in 2009.
He moved to the United States 10 years ago after graduating college in India and is the owner of Patel Realty.
A brother, Jiten Patel, an avid cricket player, came to visit recently from his home in Alabama where he works in the computer industry.
Cricket matches consist of two innings, with a game lasting about four hours in the abbreviated format played by the North Texas League. Test matches played in international competition may stretch over five days.
However, a cricket score, even in an abbreviated match, can run into the hundreds, whereas a baseball game typically has single digit scoring and the rare no-hitter.
The match starts with 11 players taking the field against two batsmen, one positioned to receive the pitch and the other standing next to the bowler. The bowler takes a running start to deliver a pitch to the opposite end of the pitch, either bouncing the ball toward the opposite wickets or making a waist high delivery. A bounced bowl must not go over the batsman’s head and it must stay within a specified zone that it hittable.
Each valid delivery by a bowler is counted as an over, and after six overs the bowler is changed, giving every fielder an opportunity to face a batsman. An abbreviated match consists of 20 overs and at least five players must bowl per team per inning.
The batsman defends the wickets from being struck by blocking the pitch or hitting it. Once the ball is struck, the two batsmen on the field run to the opposite end of the pitch which counts as one run. The batsmen can continue running back and forth as long as the ball is in play, scoring multiple runs in one at-bat. If a batsman hits the ball out of the grounds on the fly it counts as seven runs, and on the ground it counts as four runs.
A side is retired after 10 dismissals or 20 overs. An inning is completed after each team has taken a turn at bat.
The North Texas organization runs two formats, one that uses a hard leather cricket ball and the other that employs a tennis ball. The leather ball is harder and heavier than a baseball and can be delivered at speeds near 90 miles per hour. Batsmen and wicket keepers are the only players wearing protective gear, outfitted in shin guards, gloves and facemasks, while fielders play their positions bare-handed.
Winning a match requires that a team members be well-rounded in bowling, fielding and batting because everyone can wind up playing every position.
On a weekend at Dodd Park, the Blue Star or Desi Boyz teams may be on the field, or they may be traveling, and teams from the league, but not necessarily from Wylie, will be playing a match.
Matches usually start early in the morning, about 7:30 a.m., and conclude by noon to beat the heat as the weather gets warmer.
Patel sees the Wylie organization growing to three of four teams as the Asian community increases in the area. So far, though, no players have joined who grew up playing baseball or other traditional United States sports.
“The International Cricket Council has tried to promote the game in the United States, but I don’t think that will happen,” Patel said.
In addition to Cricket, the Desi Boys play volleyball on Sundays at Founders Park in Wylie.
“We just play for fun,” Patel said. “We just hit it. We play to get some exercise.”
Wylie residents are invited to go out to Dodd Park on Saturdays to get a taste of a different sport, and maybe take up cricket if the interest is there.