It’s April, and for many sports fans that means looking forward to baseball’s opening day — April 11 this year.
But there’s another game played with a bat and ball that’s growing in popularity in the U.S., particularly in Minnesota.
Cricket is the second-most-popular sport played around the globe. (Soccer — known as football to the rest of the world — comes in at No. 1.)
It may be surprising to learn that cricket has been played in the U.S. since before there was a U.S. British colonists popularized the game, making it one of the earliest organized team sports in American history.
Cricket continued to grow in popularity throughout the mid-1800s. But it took a backseat during the Civil War when baseball was promoted as a uniquely American sport. A typical baseball game also lasted a couple of hours, compared to a cricket match, which could take days. By the late 1880s, cricket was a professional sport worldwide, but it remained an amateur sport in America. By the 1920s, it had been completely eclipsed by baseball.
In the mid-1970s, a condensed one-day version of cricket was introduced and the sport experienced a resurgence in the U.S.
In Minnesota, recent immigrant groups have popularized the sport, which is flourishing with as many as 29 clubs in the state.World champion cricket players who visited Minnesota in 1988 signed a bat for an Eden Prairie fan. The bat will be on display during Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, a Minnesota History Center exhibit opening April 30 in St. Paul. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Women’s teams and youth leagues also compete. Many players are Indian; others hail from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Caribbean. The Minnesota Cricket Association (MCA), formed in 1976, is the official organization for cricket in the state.
In 1988, the Indian Students Association at the University of Minnesota and MCA invited India’s national cricket team to play matches in Minnesota.
Cricket icons including world-champion players Sunil Gavaskar, Maninder Singh and M.A. Azharuddin, along with G.R. Vishwanath, Anshuman Gaekwad and other players signed a bat for Ketan Gada, a then-13-year-old cricket fan from Eden Prairie.
“My son was so excited and thrilled to see the team and to get their autographs,” said Ram Gada, Ketan’s father. “Today this bat represents the history of immigrants in Minnesota. It shows how the sport’s popularity was growing in the state with the arrival of new fans every year. At the time, we never thought a world champion team would come to Minnesota, but they played in south Minneapolis!”
Gada has loaned the bat to the local exhibit, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, opening April 30 at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.
Cricket tournaments are held every year worldwide with an international world cup competition held every four years. The next world cup tournament will be in England and Wales in 2019. Thanks to Minnesotans, fans can follow players at home and across the world on ESPNcricinfo.com, the largest cricket website in the world. A British professor and Indian students at the University of Minnesota founded the site in 1993. It was acquired by ESPN in 2007.
Jessica Kohen is the media relations manager for the Minnesota Historical Society.
See the exhibit
Learn more about cricket with the new exhibit — Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, opening April 30 at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul — and try your hand at the game with public programs offered throughout the summer. See mnhs.org.