The scene playing out at Morrisville’s Cedar Fork District Park this weekend might look like a typical youth sports tournament.
Young competitors chatter, while parents run to deliver water bottles and coaches shout at players in the field to reposition themselves.
This is the National Youth Cricket League playing a sport that’s unfamiliar to many Americans, but it’s the second most popular sport in the world after soccer.
This weekend, the league will be in Morrisville with the national champions for the under-12 and under-16 divisions to be decided Sunday at the park. There are 16 teams competing from all across the country, including four from Wake County’s vibrant youth cricket scene.
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“It has the potential to keep growing,” said Rajesh Uppalapati, who helped found the Triangle Cricket League. “It won’t be as big as soccer, but after soccer, it can be the biggest sport in Morrisville and Cary.”
People compare the sport to baseball, but there are no bases, and the rules are quite different. The terminology is also unusual, with batsmen and bowlers, wickets and overs.
In Morrisville, whose population of 25,000 people is about a quarter Indian, it’s no coincidence that cricket has found a following. Cricket is the national sport of India.
Later this year, Morrisville will host the Southeastern regional tournament for the adult division of the United States of America Cricket Association. Organizers say they’re also trying to host the same group’s “masters” tournament, for cricketers ages 50 and up.
“You never thought you’d see cricket in North Carolina, of all places, did you?” said Alvin Kallicharan, the former captain of the West Indies national team and a two-time World Cup champion.
Kallicharan, 66, played professionally in England for 20 years before moving to North Carolina with his wife, Patsy, who grew up here.
Cricket was spread by British colonizers, who took the sport to places such as India, Pakistan, the West Indies, New Zealand and South Africa.
The United States is one of the few former British colonies where it never quite caught on – at least not until now, with a growing number of newcomers from India, especially, bringing the sport stateside.
The growth in popularity has happened mostly in larger cities because of their larger immigrant communities.
Morrisville’s interest in the sport continues to grow. The Town of Morrisville recently opened Church Street Park, which will have the only regulation cricket pitch in the area once the grass is set.
Ranjan Kumar’s son, Ashkat, was on the Cary under-12 team that played a New York team on Friday. At the next field over, a team from New Jersey faced off against another group of young players from Washington, D.C.
Kumar moved to the area for a job with IBM. He grew up playing cricket, and although he’s not in any adult leagues himself, he said he’s glad his son is learning the sport in an area where that seemed unlikely, even a few years ago.
“I’ve been in Morrisville 10 years, and the last three or four years, (cricket) has really taken off,” Kumar said.
The new park will be a welcome addition. Local matches now are played on soccer fields, with the circular outfield lined by orange construction flags serving as a makeshift boundary.
The park is at 5800 Cricket Pitch Way. The town is marketing its facility as a host site for travel tournaments and the lucrative number of out-of-town guests they bring.
Vijay Raghavendran said he and some friends were probably among the first people to play cricket in Morrisville, starting when he moved here in 1995 to take a job with Cisco. They couldn’t even find a flat spot to play on. He said he’s happy to have seen the sport advance so quickly here from such humble roots.
Raghavendran helps coach the youth teams and also frequently plays himself. He said the sport is more than nostalgic for him and other local Indians. It’s a way to keep traditions alive in a new country.
“The Indian diaspora, we are very focused on education,” he said. “I tell my kids I don’t want them playing football or basketball. But cricket, unfortunately, it’s in our DNA.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran