Wicket games: Local cricket players united by love of the sport

Photo: John Robinson Photo: John Robinson

“Come on, guys, cheer on your bowler!”

The prompt sends a wave of encouragement from the fielders as one of the bowlers for the Charlottesville Cricket Club gets a running start and uses a round-arm action to hurl the leather-bound ball down the dirt pitch toward the heavily padded batter at the other end. The ball sails past the batter and hits the wicket. The team erupts in cheers, because if this were a real game, the batter would have been out.

The club’s first practice session of the season in early March at Darden Towe Park consisted of an hour spent prepping the field, located directly behind the Little League diamond on the north side of the park, catching practice, then a practice game with several bowlers and batters taking turns at the pitch. The club, formed in 2002 by Dr. Prabhakar Reddi, has been using the county park as its practice and game space since 2008. Vice captain John D’Costa, who played cricket while growing up in India, says they are thankful the county helps maintain their pitch, which is a 22-yard-long dirt rectangle.

During the practice, several batters rack up runs by hitting fours and sixes. A four-run hit means the ball touches the ground before bouncing over the field’s boundary in any direction (unlike baseball, a batter can hit the ball forward, backward and to either side). A six-run hit occurs when the ball sails cleanly over the boundary line.

Similar to baseball, if a fielder for the opposite team catches a hit in the air, the batter is out (one of 10 ways a batter can get out). But the similarities end there; there are no bases to run in cricket. Two batters stand at the opposite end of the pitch near the wooden wicket stationed in the ground, and when a ball is hit (anything other than a four or six) the batters can run from one end of the pitch to the other. If both batters make it to the other end, that’s one run. They can run back and forth as many times until the ball reaches the hands of the wicket-keeper.

Cricket is the national sport of England and thus is “like religion” in India, which was ruled by England for 200 years, D’Costa says. The members of the Charlottesville cricket team come from several countries, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Australia and the West Indies. Many are grad students or work at UVA, and the roster varies year to year. But whenever they come to the cricket field, the players “forget where they are,” D’Costa says.

The ultimate goal is to send some of the Charlottesville players to the U.S. national team tryouts to compete on an international level with the best teams in the world. For now, the Charlottesville players enjoy the camaraderie at weekly practices and 12 games during their season, which runs from late March through September. But they’re always looking for more members—whether someone has never set foot on a pitch or grew up with a cricket bat in hand. The club is also starting a league on Saturdays in which anyone interested in learning the sport can play with a tape tennis ball, which is safer. The players hope to pass on the love of the sport to the next generation, so that cricket in Charlottesville and the Mid-Atlantic Cricket Conference grows.

“This is something that I love to do,” D’Costa says. “I grew up with this, and I want the first generation to take it over in the future. I give my heart for this.”

Darden Towe Park. Photo: Jack Looney

Park place

Darden Towe Park comprises 113 acres and includes a Little League baseball field, three softball fields, four multi-purpose fields for soccer, lacrosse and football, four tennis courts and 3.8 miles of trails.

As you drive the around the northwest side of the park, you’ll often spot outdoor-lovers in colorful life jackets loading kayaks into the Rivanna River. On the opposite end of the park, follow the sound of barking to the one-acre dog park, which seems to always have at least a couple of furry friends enjoying the fresh air.

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