In the land of football, the cricket oasis rises outside of Houston

Cricket has taken off in the largest city in Texas, where a culture of athletic competition meets a growing South Asian population.

Why are we here

We explore how America defines itself, place by place. The Cricket Complex outside Houston hosts youth and professional players alike, reflecting the sport’s growing popularity in a changing city.

j. David Goodman and Meredith Kohut watch cricket in Prairie View, Texas, and attend Major League Cricket’s first draft in Houston.

Drive northwest from Houston, and as cow pastures jostle the flat stretch of tented city sprawl, there arise, along the way, suddenly, improbably, several cricket pitches.

Head south to find a small cricket ground located in the suburbs, or west to find the fields that dot the county parks.

Cricket — the bats and wickets game of patience and fitness that was born in Britain and hardly understood by most Americans — has surprisingly taken over the footballing grounds on Friday night. A large number of South Asian immigrants around Houston and Dallas imported their favorite sport to their adopted home, where it grew amid the Lone Star’s culture of competition in all things, especially sports.

Cricket’s rapid rise in Houston has drawn international attention and helped make Texas the launching pad for the sport’s first major league, American Cricket, which kicked off its inaugural season Thursday outside of Dallas.

“One of the unknowns in Houston is the diversity of the population from the many countries that play cricket,” said Tim Cork, Deputy Consul General at the British Consulate in Houston. “There are Indians and Pakistanis, there are obviously quite a few Brits here, and Australian accents wherever you go.”

The number of people of Indian descent in Texas has doubled over the past decade to half a million, according to estimates by the Census Bureau’s annual survey, including 73,000 in Harris County, which includes Houston, and 64,000 in suburban Fort Bend County.

“When I came to this country, the only sport I knew was cricket,” said KP George, the county judge in Fort Bend, who immigrated to the United States from India in 1993. He said he had a cricket pitch. Now there are seven, and each one is reserved for play months in advance.

“There is a huge demand,” he said. “We are working in two other areas.”

The pace of development of the sport in Houston has surprised even those who worked to make it happen.

Houston hosted a new professional league player draft in March at the Johnson Space Center, one of the city’s largest tourist spots. On the Fields northwest of Houston, the league’s new teams met this month for training camps.

said Mangesh Choudhury, 38, owner of the Prairie View Cricket Complex, which, starting in 2018, oversaw the task of leveling a piece of farmland 50 miles northwest of the city into six cricket ovals. “Suddenly, I picked up a cricket.”

The site, along a major highway in Prairie View, Texas, provided the right kind of loamy soil for a grass field where cricketers bowl and bat, and free ads for passing cars on US Route 290.

Designed and funded by Houston entrepreneur Tanweer Ahmed, the project was a dream gamble that if they built it, people would come. It is working better and faster than they expected, Mr Chaudhary said, adding that the complex is still a work in progress. For example, there are still no lights or permanent toilets.

On a weekday in June, dozens of cars poured into the Cricket Complex. Young players from Atlanta and Dallas arrived for the youth tournament, hauling big bags of bats and pads in the bubbling heat.

“Good luck guys! Good luck! Play hard!” Gulam Nosher, 61, yelled at his teenage Houston-area players as they entered the field.

Mr. Nosher migrated from Bangladesh, where he was a star player, coaching young cricketers around Houston. He watched his team battle at the start of what might have been a nearly five-hour match, joking about cricket and careers with the players, who crowded the stands under a small square of shade.

“Who are the men who will study artificial intelligence?” Asked.

One of the players said, “I study computer science.”

“I thought you were going to be a doctor?” Mr. Nowsher replied.

As the 17-year-old’s captain, Arya Kanantha, waits his turn to bat, he said he’s been considering college, as well as trying to make the US national team. Although cricket has grown up around Houston, few of his classmates are in suburban Katy—one’s home The largest and most expensive high school football stadiums In the country – they were familiar with cricket.

“Not many people in my school play it,” Arya said. “They think it’s baseball, but it’s weird,” he added, laughing.

Far from a curiosity, cricket is a passion in Texas’ thriving South Asian community, and it’s poised to become big business, attracting top local investors including Ross Perot Jr., businessman and son of the former. Independent presidential candidate. Mr. Pero, along with his business partner, Anurag Jain, is the owner of the local major league team, the Texas Super Kings.

Mr Beirut said he had recently discussed cricket with Governor Greg Abbott during a visit by former British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. I said, “Mr. Prime Minister, I want you to know, we are bringing cricket to this country. “He was shocked and loved it.”

Mr. Jain, who grew up playing cricket in Chennai, India and now lives in Dallas, encouraged investment in the fledgling NBA, citing the sport’s huge international following and large fan base in Texas. “They will tell you that food is the way to a man’s heart,” said Mr. Jain. “Cricket is the way to the heart of South Asia. It is more than a sport, it is a way of life.”

The arrival of cricket gave hope to some leaders in Prairie View, home of the historic Black State University, Prairie View A&M, that tournaments would become a source of revenue for the cash-strapped town, even though it had few amateur cricketers or the South. Asian population.

“Our attitude is to help them, to help them grow,” said Kendrick Jones, a county commissioner and an alumnus of the university. “It’s a tourist attraction.”

One evening in March, hundreds of people gathered at the Johnson Space Center for the Major League Cricket Player Draft.

Inside, under suspended satellites and astronaut suits, cricket fans and investors in the league’s inaugural six teams — based in New York, Seattle, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Texas — mingle with prospective young players.

Harmeet Singh, who grew up playing in Mumbai and was selected first overall in the draft, recently moved from Seattle to a large home in the Houston suburb of Katy.

“As far as the weather is concerned, I can play more here,” said Mr Singh, 30, as he stood with his wife and two-year-old daughter. “It was an upgrade—we were in a Seattle apartment for the same price.”

Standing in the back of the museum hall, next to a large space capsule and a small hamburger table, were many of the people who helped develop the sport in Houston, including Yogesh Patel, 75, who started a cricket club after arriving in the city nearly Five decades.

“It’s as if what I dreamed of in 1976 has come true,” he said, looking around. “Houston has become the cricket capital of the USA”