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New game in town: Cricket camp works to spread sport’s popularity

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For 11-year-old Emma Cooper, the most challenging thing in learning to play cricket, aside from hitting the ball, is making the transition from baseball.

“There’s only two bases,” Emma said. “There should be four.”

Emma was one of about 40 children and adults gathered at Clifty Park Saturday morning for Cricket Camp 2012.

Emma’s mother, Stefanie Cooper, of Columbus, watched her husband, Mike, and their four children from the sidelines. Cooper admitted she didn’t know a lot about the sport but is interested in learning. Although she enjoys watching her kids play, she said the experience is a cultural one, too. Watching the cricket camp, she said, was far different from reading about it or hearing someone describe it.

“The experience of being with others who didn’t grow up here, it’s something to learn from those of another culture,” Cooper said. “If they started a cricket league here, we would definitely consider joining.”

When parents and kids arrived at the park, flat bats, pads, helmets and gloves were placed on the metal bleachers for the kids to look at and try on so they could get a feel for the equipment. However, tennis balls were brought for this game rather than the traditional hard, leather ones.

Niraj Desai, president of the Indian Association of Columbus, was among several coaches who’d gathered to teach the elements of cricket to the youngsters. Having played the game since he was a young boy, Desai said it’s a fun sport that only looks


Acknowledging it isn’t as free flowing as baseball, in that the field is oval shaped and players run back in forth in a line rather than around a diamond, once you get the hang of cricket, it’s fun.

“In Pakistan, they play every weekend,” Desai said. “Cricket may not be the national sport, but it’s easily the most popular.”

The camp attracted players not just from Columbus, but also surrounding areas. Suparna Bose, of Bloomington, was excited to hear about the camp and brought her 10-year-old son, Arpan. She said her family travels to India every year, and each time Arpan attends a cricket camp.

Prashanth Mathihalli has played with the Columbus Indiana Cricket Club for the past four years and is an umpire on the Midwest cricket league. Getting kids involved, he said, can sometimes be challenging. They don’t always have the same passion for the sport as the adults do.

Organizers for Cricket Camp 2012 were the Indian, Pakistan, and Trinbago Associations of Columbus, who are also members of the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organziation, or CAMEO. Funded by a $4,000 Welcoming Community II grant from the Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, Cricket Camp 2012 is one of several initiatives designed to welcome newcomers and their families to the Columbus community.

Mujeeb Sheikh, of the Pakistan Association of Columbus, sees the camp as the first step to raising community awareness about the sport. Indianapolis is the closest area with a cricket association, and Sheikh hopes Columbus might one day have its own. He said if interest continues to grow, there will be a Cricket Camp 2013 in the spring and, hopefully, a league to follow.

“Ideally, we would like it to be introduced into all the schools,” Sheikh said. “In countries like India and Pakistan, cricket is a passion. We want to bring that passion to the community.”

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