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By Mary Helen Sprecher

Thanks to better equipment and improvements in surfaces, sports are always evolving. Something else that pushes the evolutionary envelope, however, is population change. And that’s why many field managers will find themselves being asked about cricket. Since an educated response beats an open-mouthed stare any day, it’s time to do a quick meet-and-greet on the sport that is quickly gaining popularity in the United States.

Cricket is extremely popular in England, India and Australia. However, with the increasing movement of individuals to the United States, the sport has come over as well, and is now being seen recreationally in parks, as well as on college campuses and in clubs throughout the country.

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Which leads us back to the need for field management. Sooner or later, someone is going to pose the question of lining a field for cricket, or even setting aside a dedicated space that needs to be marked. You’re going to want to know how – and Google isn’t always going to produce a definitive resource – so it’s imperative to acquaint yourself with the facts.

First, the basics: if you know baseball, you can figure out cricket. Like baseball, it’s a bat-and-ball sport with pitchers, runners and fielders, as well as umpires and spectators. The game goes to the team with the most points scored. The highest governing body is the International Cricket Council (ICC), although, as with other sports, there are national governing bodies and related organizations.

So far, so good. But, beyond those facts, there are certainly plenty of differences in rules, and (more importantly for us here) in field layout. Whereas a field in baseball (or softball, for that matter) is diamond-shaped, the cricket field has two shapes: an interior, rectangular area known as the pitch, where batters (there are two) and pitchers (also two) stand; and an exterior field that is generally pictured as rounded, but has also been described as elliptical and oval (see diagrams).

Surfaces are important but not as important as you might think.

“Natural turf is used for the highest level of cricket,” said Ranjeet Singh, president of the U.S. Youth Cricket Association (USYCA). “However, it has a huge maintenance cost. About 98 percent of pitches in the U.S. are artificial turf and owned by parks or schools. There are only a handful of natural pitches across the county.”

In much the same way that other sports fields or courts made of natural grass wear quickly in certain areas, so does cricket. A lacrosse field, for example, will show wear most quickly at the crease, and a grass tennis court will have worn areas along the baseline. In cricket, much of the action takes place on the pitch (the rectangular strip area mentioned earlier) so that wears more quickly. But, just as in soccer, that doesn’t mean athletes don’t have preferences.

“Natural turf is preferred by all competitive players,” said Singh. “Recreational players don’t care.”

In fact, cricket is growing at that recreational level despite some drama in the U.S. Previously, the USA Cricket Association (USACA) was the recognized NGB in this country; however, in 2015, the ICC removed it and instituted a new organization, known as USA Cricket, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Still, said Singh, there is an increasingly strong and vocal population that wants the game in the United States. 

“There is a huge push to grow the game and build quality infrastructure, and up to a billion dollars is expected to be invested on that line,” he said.

New York, Florida and California have long been seen as pockets where cricket is prevalent, and Florida’s Central Broward Regional Park is home to the United States’ first purpose-built cricket stadium (a venue that continues to host ICC league matches). There are club teams at the college level and leagues in all 50 states. And, as more tech workers started moving to the United States for jobs in the 1980s and ‘90s, they brought with them an enthusiasm for, and a commitment to, cricket.

It hasn’t made it into the Olympics yet, but as more countries apply to host the Summer Games, expect to see cricket presented as a showcase sport, much the same way baseball and softball will be presented in Tokyo in 2020 (and likely in Los Angeles in 2028, though not in Paris in 2024).

The sport is also growing because of a youth movement; some schools are implementing it in gym class since it involves more players on the field at one time than baseball or softball. There’s plenty of running, bringing in the active play schools crave.

For those who doubt that cricket could catch on in the United States, and who consequently think there is no reason to familiarize themselves with the game, consider this: The game of soccer didn’t enter the United States until the mid-1850s when immigrants brought it over. It wasn’t until 1915 that the sport even had a governing body here. These days, it’s hard to drive past a field without a game in session, or to miss it on TV. 

In short, the evolution of sports is inevitable. And it’s the responsibility of field managers to keep up or get left out.

Mary Helen Sprecher wrote this article on behalf of the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA), a non-profit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality construction of many sports facilities, including sports fields. One of the Association’s resources is the book, Sports Fields: A Construction & Maintenance Manual. The ASBA sponsors informative meetings and publishes newsletters, other books and technical construction guidelines for athletic facilities including running tracks and sports fields. For more information: 866-501-ASBA (2722) or www.sportsbuilders.org.

Photos courtesy of the International Cricket Council, www.icc-cricket.com.

Diagram provided by the U.S. Youth Cricket Association, usyca.org

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