Howzzat!

By Vidya Pradhan

Sunny skies, green manicured grounds and a group of sportsmen dressed in white. No, this is not a preview of the World Cup Cricket matches soon to be played in Barbados. This committed bunch is made up of kids under the age of 11, as focused and disciplined as their senior peers and as serious about winning their 3 game tournament on a school ground in Cupertino.

About 4 years ago, Hemant and Kinjal Buch’s two boys got bitten by the cricket bug on one of their annual trips to India. Since they could hardly play the game with just each other, the Buch’s looked around in the Indian heavy population of Cupertino for other kids with the same passion for the game. To their surprise, they found 22 kids right away and the California Cricket Academy(CCA) was born.
Cricket has a surprisingly long history in the Bay Area. The Northern California Cricket Association(NCCA) has been around since the 1880s. Even before that there were two cricket teams in the Bay Area which played against crews from British and Australian ships passing through San Francisco. While the senior leagues have been thriving and flourishing thanks to the expat population, there was no feeder system for them till the CCA was formed.

The CCA is the only organization in the Bay Area today that exclusively trains kids. Children as young as 5 years are eligible to join. There are under-11, under-13 and under-15 teams. The program competes with the many other sport offerings in the community recreational system but differs in some very significant respects. While there are three sessions in the year like the community offerings, the games are competitive from the get go. Unlike the other leagues where the emphasis is on making the sport inclusive and friendly, kids in the CCA have to be good enough to make the team in the tournaments (everyone does get to play in the social games). A lot is expected from them in terms of motivation and dedication to the game. In a sense, they are groomed for the realities of competitive cricket from day one.

In return, the CCA offers a strong cricket curriculum with trained and certified coaches who mostly come over from India specially to coach. Ajit Tendulkar and Chetan Mankad are some of the illustrious cricketers who the CCA has been able to attract. There are 4 pitches in various schools in Cupertino which are concrete or clay with Astroturf laid on top and the kids play with the regulation leather ball. Parent participation is not just welcome but expected.

One of the early hurdles that the CCA had to face was to be able to provide continuous training sessions so the kids and parents could commit to the game over several seasons. With the help of guest coaches and strong parent volunteers, they have been able provide an ongoing program since inception. Parents have also been supportive with fundraising which is a very important factor since each pitch costs between 8 and 10 thousand dollars to construct.

Amit Sharma, one of the volunteer coaches, plays for a club associated with the NCCA. Hearing about a coaching opportunity in the CCA through the NCCA message boards, he jumped at the chance. Amit, who trained at the Chembur Gymkhana as a teenager, sees a vast difference between the galli cricket that he played as a kid and the professional training kids in the CCA get. Amit trained the under-11 team towards the end of the last session. He was amazed at the raw talent some of the really young kids had. After being coached for a month, his kids had the opportunity to play 3 games, one of which they won on the last ball. For Amit, it was the most satisfying experience of his cricketing life even as he went hoarse yelling from the sidelines.

Says Amit, “Cricket is the ultimate team sport. Unlike contact sports that are more popular in this country, cricket is a gentlemen’s game that is all about temperament, patience, persistence and perseverance. Most importantly, it is a mind game.” The most exciting part of his coaching duties was to teach 6-7 year olds about strategy. The advantage that these kids get in learning cricket formally at such a young age is not lost on him.

Amit sees cricket really taking off in a big way in the near future. “Kids who are just starting off in this game are in the best position”, he says, “ They have 10 years to see where this is going.”

In the short span of 3 years Hemant Buch’s little idea has grown to a tremendously successful organization. Kids from the CCA regularly compete in tournaments outside the area. In the first ever National Junior Tournament organized by the USA Cricket Association, CCA teams won the under-11 and under-13 championshipwhile the Northwest Centurions made up of CCA players won the under-15. 3 kids from the CCA have already made it to the national teams where their discipline and training has attracted very favorable comment.

The fledgling organization has achieved a lot of credibility in the Indian community because it is so result oriented. Also the close involvement of parents in the game means that the CCA has also become a social and professional network. The larger cricket family meets regularly for social events and occasionally rents the Naz theater in Fremont for a movie night!

The challenge now is to take it mainstream. While the CCA is closely involved with the city of Cupertino, the dream is to have pitches in every city with kids from every nationality on the teams. Cricket is the fastest growing sport in this country. At every local level, it is therefore a matter of convincing the recreation departments to provide infrastructure to make it easy for kids to get together at a venue closer to home to practice. A steady stream of multicultural students would make it easier to convince other school districts to give priority to this game.

To know more about the excellent activities of the CCA or to enrol in the Spring 2007 program, check out their website at http://calcricket.org.

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