Rochester transplants find common culture in cricketby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Rochester, Minn. — Just past 9 a.m. on a hot Saturday in Rochester, about half a dozen men, all dressed in white, roll a 66-foot-long mat made of coconut fibers onto a rectangular clay mound.
Two of the players take turns hammering spikes into the ground to keep the mat in place. A few others warm up nearby.
The game is between two Rochester teams -- the Strikers and the Rockets. A still unnamed team from La Crosse has the weekend off.
The three teams are part of the Rochester Cricket Association, which is holding its first-ever tournament this month. Mayo Clinic and IBM employees have played the bat and ball game for nearly three decades in Rochester, but this is the first season they've had enough members for multiple teams.
Both companies for years have recruited workers from all over the world, including many cricket-playing nations.
By day, these men teach nuclear medicine, try to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, and protect the intellectual property rights of cutting edge medical research.
But once a week, on warm days, they come out to play the game they learned back home.
Cricket was first played in England a few centuries ago, and later exported around the world to India, Pakistan, Jamaica and other parts of the British empire.
"In India, cricket is like God," said Ashutosh Mangalam.
Mangalam, 26, has lived in Rochester since 2001. Like most cricket players here, he came to the United States from another country. Now he works as a scientist and professor at Mayo Clinic.
"Here, if you want to go somewhere [where] there are lots of people, you have to talk about [the] NFL, baseball," he said. "In India, if you talk about cricket, most probably 100 of 100 people want to talk about it."
But many Americans don't understand cricket, even though the game is a lot like its distant cousin, baseball.
Here are the basics:
A cricket match is played between two teams of 11 players each. Each play begins with a pitch to a batter.
The biggest difference between baseball and cricket is the layout of the field. In cricket, most of the action happens on a rectangular area called a pitch at the center of an oval-shaped ground.
At both ends of the pitch, there's something called a wicket. It's similar to a base in baseball but consists of three wooden sticks and two small wooden balls resting on them.
The pitcher is called a bowler. The main goal of the bowler is to get the batsman out or the keep him from scoring runs. He sprints before throwing the ball from one wicket toward the batsman at the other wicket. As in baseball, cricket bowlers try to confuse batsmen with a variety of spins and speeds.
At that point, the batsman tries to hit the ball and run to a base. The batsman is free to hit the ball anywhere in the ground. If he hits the ball, he has the option of running to the other wicket. He must run with his bat in hand. If he makes it to the wicket before the ball gets there, he scores a run for the team.
Sridhar Dwarkanath, who heads the association in Rochester, said that while cricket has never caught on in the United States, Rochester's international workforce has helped keep a steady flow of players through the years.
"It's very diverse what we have here," Dwarkanath said. "We have players from England and one guy from Australia. Sri Lanka. India. Pakistan. Bangladesh."
One of those players is 30-year-old Brad Partridge, from Australia. Partridge, who is completing a one-year research fellowship at Mayo, moved to Rochester with his girlfriend last year.
"We thought we'd come to see America for a year, and we get to America and I start playing cricket again," Partridge said. "It's good to play with these guys. The rest of the guys are Indian and Pakistani. They just eat, breathe, sleep cricket. They love it."
The Minnesota Cricket Association lists about two dozen teams that play cricket around the state on a regular basis. The three teams out of Rochester haven't joined because of scheduling issues, Dwarkanath said.
Players don't expect the game to overtake baseball, football or basketball in popularity, but they do see a gradual increase in interest in the sport.
Dwarkanath hopes enthusiasm for the game continues to grow in the Rochester area among adults from cricket-loving nations, and even those not from first- or second-generation immigrant families.
"We have to start at the grassroots, bring the kids, families, get the kids involved," he said. "Once we start there, we can approach even the schools. Kids will like it. If you give them a bat and throw a ball, they want to hit that."
The seven-week series in Rochester will come to an end with a final game in August. After that, the association will hold a youth clinic before the end of summer.
- Morning Edition, 07/21/2010, 8:40 a.m.