“You fall in love with the game not just for the physical activity but for all the mental nuances that go on."

The game of cricket is major deal in Minor Park

“It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players—more if they are moderately restless.”

Story and photos by Jill Draper

“Let’s go boys! Looking good. Two! Two! Two!” 

During a recent Midwest Cricket League game at Minor Park, players dressed in traditional all-white uniforms sat on the bleachers and yelled encouragements to teammates on the field, practiced hitting a red leather ball behind the bleachers, and occasionally thwacked their willow wood bats with a mallet to create a sweet spot for a more powerful hit. 

That’s called knocking-in a bat, one of many confusing terms—like bowlers, overs, wickets and bails—connected with a game not widely understood by Americans but said to be the world’s second most popular sport, behind only soccer.

A player bangs his bat with a mallet to compress the wood so the ball pings off more strongly.

Cricket is a bigger deal in other parts of the nation where teams in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Texas and Washington D.C. soon will play Major League Cricket, a professional conference set to begin next year. But the sport is growing steadily in Missouri and Kansas. The Midwest Cricket League was established in 2003 with 6 teams and now has 11 teams (peaking at 18 pre-Covid) with some 300 players. 

In mid-August a quarterfinals game at Minor Park featured the KC Avengers vs. the Raptors and drew a crowd of three spectators plus one dog walker passing by.  But that didn’t dampen the spirits of the players, who called the sport their passion.

“You fall in love with the game not just for the physical activity but for all the mental nuances that go on.”

” said Bala Sridhar, while others described it as a good stress reliever from their weekday jobs as software engineers, physicians and business owners.

Nearly everyone in the league grew up watching and playing cricket in their home countries—mostly India, but also Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies. Deepak Vadlamudi began by practicing with a ball in his backyard and studying a cricket textbook, later becoming captain of his high school team in Vijayawada, India. “Every game has its own flavor,” he said.

Delhi Babu Yenugu, a software engineer from Overland Park, bats for the KC Avengers.

Somewhat like baseball, one team plays the field while another bats. But instead of running four bases, there are two, each with a batter ready to score points. Hence the chants from the bleachers of “two, two, two!”

Traditional matches often run from morning through afternoon, occasionally lasting up to five days. American travel writer Bill Bryson joked about the game’s unhurried pace in his book, “In a Sunburned Country.”

“It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players—more if they are moderately restless,” said Bryson, noting how during an 800-mile drive across Australia he listened to the same cricket game on the radio.

That’s a big reason a faster-paced form of cricket was created. Known as Twenty20 or T20, it was introduced in 2003 in England and Wales and now is the most popular format, especially for televised games. Most of the Midwest Cricket League members play T20 (which features team colors) as well as traditional cricket. Some like it best—there are more chances to bat, they say, while others feel the opposite. Kiran Kambhampati likes the longer game. “I take my time to settle in and accelerate in the end,” he says. “That’s my style.”

The Midwest Cricket League played at Swope Park until seven years ago, relocating to Minor Park when the Swope Soccer Village expanded. The league has a second cricket field in Liberty, and some members play still another version of the sport in Olathe or help coach boys at the Kansas Youth Cricket Academy there. Women also play cricket (there is a USA team) but there’s no established women’s league in the region. 

A cricket ball is very hard and protective equipment can include a helmet, leg pads, gloves and various guards for arms, elbows, chest and thighs. 

Lisa and John Cowan of Leawood sometimes sit in the shade and see the games at Minor Park. Lisa tracks each game’s progress on a phone app, and with every game they learn the rules a little better. Last weekend they brought along another Leawood couple.

“Our goal is to get a contingency of friends here to watch the players,” says Lisa. “Anytime we have a question we go ask the guys to explain, and they are so nice to answer.”

“Besides,” she jokes, “we all said since the Royals aren’t playing very well, we’ve got cricket to watch.”

The sport goes on all year in India, but here in the Midwest the season usually ends by November. For more, see cricclubs.com.

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