The game is cricket, and it’s a special experience to those who play it in Harrisburg.
From May until August, cricket is played in the early mornings, on soft green grass, wickets twisted into the ground, flat wooden bats cracking re-purposed tennis balls into the distance.
As cars press along busy Cameron Street, the sounds of elation escape the grounds and into the air. “FOUR!” “SIX!”
The non-profit Pennsylvania United Cricket Association (PAUCA), which incorporated in 2004, has been orchestrating games for more than 10 years now. It has 14 teams of nearly 40 players, and its members also volunteer and give back to the community, said Nilesh Patel, the vice president and CEO of PAUCA.
And as far as the game itself, the organization brings together a smorgasbord of ethnicities, from Indians to Pakistanis to Australians, Americans and British.
That camaraderie is built every year, from team to team. When an off-the-field tragic incident occurred in 2006—a cricket player named Hitender Thakur was killed in a robbery attempt at the convenience store where he worked in Harrisburg—the cricket community banded together to show support, going as far as to help a family they barely knew in India. They flew Thakur back home to have a proper burial.
“It’s players and families getting together, bringing connectedness,” Patel said. “There’s different languages and religions, but we’ve become more close.”
Some travel great distances just to play every week.
“You can directly compare this game and Indian people to the NFL,” Patel said. “This is second only to golf. And for some people, it’s their primary sport. It’s the only thing we grew up with.”
Cricket, like baseball, is played with a bat and a ball. But, unlike our national pasttime, cricket doesn’t have innings. There are overs, and for every over, there are six pitches. Games usually last 20 overs, with one team batting until their overs are extinguished. The next tries to break that number, and if they do, they win and the game ends.
Pitchers are called bowlers. The field isn’t played on a diamond, but on a circle. There are no bases to run, just wickets.
The game hasn’t caught up in America for that reason alone. It can be confusing. But like soccer, the game is played across the globe, and in India, it’s a national treasure, played by individuals who become celebrities and quasi-deity figures.
One player on the team Desiboyz, Saurabh Singh, who works for Deloitte, says an athlete like Sachin Tendulkar—a famous cricket player—is like LeBron James or David Beckham. He’s considered a superstar by his country and adored by fans.
In Harrisburg, players are simply happy to be playing the game, to have a space to take up their hobby. Some arrive at the grounds wearing cricket shirts and pants. Others wear jeans and t-shirts. The dichotomy somehow comes together, in part because of the sport.
Many of the players grew up playing the game, Patel said, on sidewalks and dirt roads nearest to their homes and hearts. It’s become their passion, their love.
It’s a game that will remain close to them for many reasons. In the four months this league maintains play in the Harrisburg area, there are countless matches earned, friendships borne and championships won.
Still, there’s time for a celebration afterward.
PAUCA makes a concerted effort to reward its players each season for a job well done, putting nearly 40 percent of its meager budget into the year-end bash, which takes place this month.
“The main reason we do it is for the families,” said Nilesh Patel. “The league runs the entire summer, but only a few families show up on the grounds. So, we started holding the banquet at the end of the year so we could cherish the game and have an award ceremony and have family togetherness.”
The ceremony recognizes the more than 500 players in PAUCA with awards and a celebratory dinner at the Embers Convention Center in Carlisle.
“It’s a life,“ Patel said of the culture of the game. “Personally, I like cricket because I do follow it religiously. I can’t wait to start the game. It’s a love for the sport, that’s the simplest reason I can say.”
And if that’s not enough, Patel adds, there’s this:
“Cricket is something that brings out the child, if you will, from their soul.”
Learn more about PAUCA and cricket in the Harrisburg area by visiting www.pauca.com.