University City

Club keeps things cricket in Charlotte

Walking down a dirt-and-gravel path toward ball field No. 2 at Reedy Creek Park, you can hear the sounds of sport coming from behind the approaching curtain of evergreen trees.

Men cheering and jeering between the intermittent resonance of wood cracking a cork-and-leather ball put one in the mind of baseball.

But it is the national pastime of a distant country, not the United States, that occupies this space every Saturday and Sunday.

Cricket, which has some similarities to baseball, is a favorite sport of the people of India. Several Charlotte-based clubs have emerged to give dozens of people with Indian origins a chance to share their culture on the playing field.

South Park Cricket Club, the Charlotte Tigers, Accenture Cricket Club and the Charlotte City Cricket Club have all formed in the last seven years, and all of them are members of the Carolina Cricket League, which includes teams from Gastonia, High Point and Winston-Salem.

"You keep part of India alive," said Vihang Shaw, a 25-year-old from uptown who works for IBM and plays for South Park. "The sport is not that big in the U.S., but you wish one day that it will get big."

Though the sport appeals mostly to people with ties to international cricket hotbeds such as India, Pakistan, Australia and the West Indies, league officials say they hope their sport can transcend cultures and appeal to youth growing up in the Charlotte area.

South Park Cricket Club is Charlotte's oldest active club. Its original members all lived near Charlotte's SouthPark mall, but they have dispersed to other Charlotte neighborhoods over time.

The club has two teams: the Blue team is comprised of higher-skilled players, and the Red, which is less competitive.

After several years of playing in the Mid-Atlantic Cricket Conference, which includes teams from North Carolina and Virginia, South Park was one of the founding members of the Carolina Cricket League, which began play last year.

The Charlotte Lions, based in Gastonia, as is the Charlotte International Cricket Club, won the league's first championship last year.

You could say that Reedy Creek Park is the home field for all four Charlotte-based teams, but South Park Cricket Club is the organization that coordinates use of the playing surface.

The clubs lease the field from Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation and maintain the 22-yard pitch (the pitching track) it installed four years ago.

League officials hope that Park and Recreation can give them access to a larger field if their game becomes big enough in the community. The field at Reedy Creek was converted from an old soccer field and is smaller than the standard circular or oval-shaped cricket field.

International rules suggest a minimum width of 150 feet, but Reedy Creek's field is about 120 feet wide.

Orange cones and a set of concrete bleachers mark the perimeter of the Reedy Creek field, encompassed by the tall pines. The games don't attract much of a crowd, except for an occasional curiosity seeker.

Next month, league officials are planning a couple of events they hope will draw attention to their game.

League president Vishal Durvasula, who also plays for South Park, and South Park business manager Subashis Halder, are organizing youth cricket clinics.

Halder says his team has also been invited by Providence Day school to provide cricket instruction for some of its students. Durvasula says there will be a league all-star game at Reedy Creek on June 25.

In addition to the Carolina Cricket League, Durvasula thinks he can rally enough support in Charlotte's corporate community to form a league within Charlotte's borders.

"(Cricket) is an outreach for us," said Durvasula. "We as people, want to be a part of this community and serve this community. That's my biggest goal."