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A new professional cricket league launches in the U.S. in July

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Major League Cricket kicks off in the U.S. this year. Competition starts in July with six teams, including one from San Francisco. And as KQED's Holly J. McDede reports, many supporters have ties to countries in South Asia and have long been promoting the sport.

HOLLY MCDEDE, BYLINE: At a recent cricket tournament in Pleasanton, Calif., it feels like the World Series of Little League Baseball.

VIK VAIDHYA: And that's my son going in. Good luck, buddy, Eshaan. Do your thing.

MCDEDE: That's Vik Vaidhya. His son Eshaan plays for the San Ramon Cricket Association, known as SRCA. Eshaan goes into bat.

VAIDHYA: (Singing) SRCA.

MCDEDE: He scores, running between two sets of wooden stumps.

VAIDHYA: Whoa. That's another ball.

MCDEDE: Thanks to years of advocacy from members of the Bay Area's South Asian community, young players who dream of cricket can play on cricket fields, train in local academies and join youth leagues. Schools also offer cricket in PE.

MICHAEL NARAINE: The United States was a cricket nation a long, long time ago, so this isn't a new thing. It's just a resurgence.

MCDEDE: Michael Naraine is a sports management professor at Brock University in Canada. He says in the 1700s, the British brought cricket to North American colonies. But over time, interest faded in the U.S. and eventually gave way to the rise of baseball. Cricket expanded to other colonies of the British Empire, from Australia to South Africa to India, where the sport really took off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And that's out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes, it's all over this time.

MCDEDE: In 1983, the Indian cricket team beat the West Indies in London and became world champions on their former colonizer's land.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: They've beaten West Indies twice. They've beaten Australia. They've beaten England.

MCDEDE: As cricket became even more popular in India, immigrants from South Asian countries brought their cricket fandom to the U.S., with the Bay Area being one of the sport's biggest hubs.

NARAINE: When you've got a place like Silicon Valley, you've got the tech industry, it is a breeding ground for the best and brightest talent from around the world, many of which, particularly in the tech sector, happen to come from India.

MCDEDE: Several cricket players from the Bay Area are on U.S. national teams. High school junior Anika Kolan is one of them.

ANIKA KOLAN: I'm kind of referred to as, like, cricket girl in school now.

MCDEDE: Anika has been playing cricket since she was 9 years old. Her parents are both from India, and she says her dad got her into the sport.

ANIKA: My dad actually built some cages in our backyard, so I spent a lot of my time there practicing with him. In my off-time, I would think about cricket, and I would just want to do everything I can to get better at it.

MCDEDE: Anika's mom is Manjula Kolan. She was skeptical at first that a sport like cricket could lead somewhere for a young American athlete.

MANJULA KOLAN: To pick it up as a sport, compromising your school and other activities - I was the most furious enemy my husband ever had in those times.

MCDEDE: But then her daughter made the U.S. national team.

KOLAN: Sky was the limit for them, and I had no other option than to, you know, open up my doors.

MCDEDE: This month, her daughter will compete in South Africa in the International Cricket Council's Under-19 Women's World Cup. And if a proposed cricket stadium gets built in California, she may someday play for fans close to home.

For NPR News, I'm Holly J. McDede.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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