By Vidya Pradhan
If the recent World Cup debacle has completely turned you off Indian cricket, here is a way to recapture some of the simple joy that the game has brought us over the years. Remember the fun of ‘galli’ cricket? A few kids, a cardboard sheet with three lines drawn on it, a narrow alley and a tennis ball; that’s all it took for an afternoon of uncomplicated masti. That’s the spirit that the Tennis Ball Cricket Association(TCA) has been trying to bring to the Bay Area and the weekend Kapil Dev’s in all of us.
In 2000, Ajay Pal Singh, Giriraj Vengurlekar and a bunch of like-minded friends found themselves playing tennis ball cricket regularly on weekends. They decided to form an informal organization so they could have some consistency in the format and the rules when playing with people in other parts of the bay. Also, getting a field and approaching local schools and city councils for resources was more efficient and productive as an organization. A lot of interest was generated right away and nearly 40 teams signed up by 2002. The next year the TCA formally became a non-profit to be able to benefit from sponsorships from individuals and companies in the area.
TCA today organizes regular matches and tournaments for its teams but the basic concept is to have a lot of fun without spending a lot of time. Matches are typically 20 overs long and are done in half a day. “Not everybody wants to play leather ball cricket,” says Giriraj. “It is a way of indulging your hobby without giving up too much of family time. Also, the chances of injury are much less with a tennis ball. It also costs less than leather ball cricket.” Because the matches are so short, reserving the grounds is cheaper and the tennis ball makes some expensive equipment unnecessary.
TCA was initially for adults but as members wanted their children to share their passion, the organization has started to offer free coaching camps for kids. After a few initial hiccups, a weekend camp for kids has been regularly conducted in Sunnyvale since the summer of 2006. The camp has an open door policy and is usually conducted on weekend afternoons.
I met with Deepak Sabharwal at one of these sessions. Deepak is a parent volunteer for TCA who comes all the way from Fremont every week. His two boys, Siddhanth and Shiven, who caught the cricket fever during a stay in India, have been regulars with the classes. In a typical session, the kids do fitness drills, bowling and fielding drills and play a short match at the end. “My kids have a lot of fun and enjoy the informality of the camps,” says Deepak.
Ryan Auer is one of the coaches. He finds the leather ball cricket format too long and plays for one of the TCA teams called the Murdoch Cricket Club in San Jose. He was introduced to the game in High School and now plays tournaments regularly. “These kids have a real advantage because they are learning so early. When they first came in some of them barely knew how to hold the bat properly and now they look forward to the matches,” he says.
Today, about 70 odd teams across the Bay play tennis ball cricket. TCA has had some recognition from the various chambers of commerce, especially around the Indian-heavy South Bay cities. The whole idea is to be a part of making cricket a mainstream sport in the Bay Area and eventually in the country. In their efforts to popularize the sport, the TCA held little workshops during the Fremont 50th Anniversary celebrations last year. There is also an ongoing effort to get resources from local schools. TCA also holds fundraising matches for local charities in their bid to help out other non-profits.
TCA’s comprehensive website makes it easy for people to sign up, both for the adult teams and the kids’ camps. You can join as either an individual or as a team. Teams are usually geographic in nature so it is possible to find a spot close to home. With a fairly steady movement of people in and out of the country, spots are not hard to come by. Details can be found here . Registration is free. Most information like team lists is accessible only after login, so sign up.
To get a taste of TCA, be sure to check out one of their weekend sessions. It’s a great way to enjoy cricket on a warm weekend afternoon.