An intramural sport growing in popularity on university campuses.
Story and photos by Jake Waddingham
One of the fastest-growing intramural activities on local college campuses is not a traditional sport like football, basketball or soccer.
Even the unique recreational activities like ultimate Frisbee, field hockey and a non-magic version of Harry Potter’s Quidditch do not attract as many students at The University of Texas at Tyler.
When time is allotted, several UT Tyler students enjoy playing cricket.
According to Bob Hepler, director of the Herrington Patriot Center at UT Tyler, students are asking for more “open play.”
“Open play could be out on a grass field or on a basketball court,” Hepler says. “It is open time for students to just go and play.”
Finding space to allow students the opportunity play with friends is difficult. Hepler says scheduling conflicts with sports teams, recreational activities on campus and limited open green space make open play a rare opportunity.
Due to its lack of popularity in the United States, it is hard to form an intramural league and get enough students interested in playing cricket. Open play fills the gap.
Students bring their own equipment, divide into teams and umpire themselves.
Nitesh Rao, a UT Tyler student, helps organize students and friends to play cricket games on the weekends.
“We play on Saturday and Sunday in the evenings,” Rao says. “We gather on the soccer fields for people who are free to play.”
But when flag football season takes up the intramural field and the Patriot’s soccer teams are using the competition field, cricket players are left with no room to play.
Hepler says a campus the size of UT Tyler would ideally have more green space for students to organize their own activities like cricket.
“We’re doing a better job at providing that type of space for students, some by accident and some by design,” Hepler says.
The mountain bike trails through the trees on campus and the disc golf course give students some options for independent outdoor activities. An area in front of student dining is also popular for hammocks and slack lining.
But open green space is limited.
“It is not always a problem, but a few times there are other matches going on there like practices or football,” Rao says.
A NEW WAY TO BOWL
Cricket, like other open-play events, requires a lot of open green space to play a full-scale game.
Traditional cricket has 11 players on each team on an oval-shaped playing surface. The oval is 350 feet long and has a 66-foot playing area in the center, known as the pitch.
On each end of the pitch, three wickets made of narrow stumps are set up. These designate where the batter, non-batter and bowler stand.
The bowler is equivalent to a pitcher in American baseball. He throws a cricket ball toward the wickets, which is like a strike zone.
The batter attempts to hit the “bowled” cricket ball. If it is struck into play, the batter and non-batter exchange positions across the pitch to score points until the fielding team strikes the wicket to get the batter out.
Teams attempt to score as many runs as possible until all 11 batters are out.
“We already had our own supplies like wickets, bats and balls,” Rao says. “We can get replacements at the sports stores.”
Cricket has been an organized game in Indian culture since the 13th century, according to the Andhra Cricket Association. Today, the association helps fund leagues for children and conducts tournaments.
In the United States, interest in the the sport is growing, thanks to the international student population.
At UT Tyler, the sport is still relatively unknown except to Rao and his friends.
“We are always welcoming. We like playing, and we like when others play the game,” Rao says. “The more people that play, the more we can enjoy a lot.”
SEARCH FOR THE GREEN
Hepler says bringing more international activities to campus means needing more open areas of play.
“There are some students that have a desire to do an activity, but do not have a location,” Hepler says. “Those students are desperate to try to find a spot.”
This forces Rao and other students to play at odd hours such early Sunday afternoons. Intramural sports also have priority, so cricket players have to find other playing fields.
Hepler says the Rec Sports Department is working to get more green space.
We want to just let the students go out there and play,” Hepler says. “We don’t schedule anything, just leave it open for them.”
The opportunity for students to bring their own sports to campus could spark enough interest to eventually create more organized sports through intramurals.
Rao and his friends will continue spending time on the pitch to promote cricket when they have time away from their studies.
He says having a sport to play with friends and others on campus made it easier to adapt to life at the university. Rao encourages others to go out and play or join in on their game.