Batter: Cricket becomes the latest sport to take root in Austin

What’s a bats, balls, and runs game that’s starting to take off in Austin?

While baseball and softball may also fit the bill, cricket – the second most watched sport in the world – has recently grown in popularity in the Texas capital.

The game of cricket sounds strange to many American ears – instead of rules, cricket has ‘laws’ and uses friendly terms like ‘wickets’, ‘dismissals’ and ‘boundaries’. But like America’s pastime, the goal is simple: hit the ball and score as many runs as possible. It’s a sport that has spread across former English colonies, from South Asia to the Caribbean. And cricket enjoyed an estimated 2 billion viewers, or nearly 30% of the world’s population, at the 2015 World Cup.

It’s that energy that Raghav Shankar wanted to bring to Austin. Shankar has played cricket throughout his life in various locations – from Singapore to England – and spent his weekends playing every weekend in Texas before deciding to quit his job three years ago and devote himself to teaching the sport.

For reasons sometimes unknown to him, cricket is as essential as food or walking for Shankar.

Shankar (pictured right) received an award for Best Referee at the Singapore Cricket Association Awards in 2017. (Raghav Shankar)

“Why is it an integral part of my life? I don’t know, to be honest,” Shankar told Austonia. “I love it and it brings out the best in me. Whatever leadership skills I’ve learned in life is honestly through sports, so that’s why I keep doing it. What I and my team of coaches want to teach kids is to care never really on, not in sports and not in life.”

His brainchild, Sport Movement, was originally intended to introduce children to the sport. The organization quickly grew from coaching one boy to nearly 1,500 boys and girls, with after-school classes in cricket, football, soccer, athletics and swimming.

Sport Movement started as an organization dedicated to teaching children about cricket. (Raghav Shankar)

Shankar was happy with his business model, but when the pandemic hit and many parents were unwilling to send their children to personal coaching, Sport Movement needed a rebrand.

Shankar was already a member of the Austin Premier Cricket League and decided to start his own league. Sports Movement subsequently established an outdoor cricket night league and the Austin Indoor Cricket League, aiming to engage anyone interested in the game in 2020.

The organization now has 275 players in the night competition and 20 teams in the indoor competition. With 90 minute matches versus the popular 3 hour format (some cricket matches can last up to five days), the league is the only one of its kind in this part of the country. It is also marketed to all ages and skill levels, and Raghav said he has seen many newcomers show up to try the sport.

The Austin Indoor Cricket League has seen players from nine different countries play their favorite sport. (Raghav Shankar)

“Especially when we started indoor cricket, a lot of beginners came to try the game out,” Raghav said. “We’ve seen a lot of Americans, a lot of people who have never tried a cricket match, which was great because that’s what we were trying to do.”

Austin has become known as a hub for sports that are off the beaten track – from Brazilian jiu jitsu to roller derby to pickleball. It is that difficult spirit that has led so many newcomers to the competition. More importantly though, it has helped build a community for Austin cricket fans from around the world.

“I would like to think that our competition is the most diverse because of the formats we have introduced,” said Raghav. “We’ve basically created a community where people come in and they can interact with each other and talk about how they grew up.”

A cricket fan base in America is still relatively small but continues to grow, with a new Major League Cricket League scheduled to start in 2022. But Raghav says it will be a while before cricket fields are built next to baseball fields in American cities.

“The first is that we need cricket to be accepted and understood by Americans, but 99% of Americans don’t play the sport yet,” Raghav said. “To be really successful, it has to be played by the locals… cricket wants to grow, but it will take a long time to become as big as any other sport.”

The Austin Indoor League kicks off the 2022 season on Saturday at the Crossover in Leander, where the league will play every Saturday and Sunday through February 27.

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