The Raghunath family of Deer Park are one of hundreds of Long Island families who originally come from India and love the sport of cricket. The family wishes more schools would introduce the sport. NewsdayTV’s Drew Scott reports. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

It’s not easy to get your kids into cricket when your sport is an underdog on Long Island.

Your American-born children aren’t exposed to the competition that you embrace with religious fervor. To them, it’s not baseball; it’s not football; it’s not basketball. 

Cricket is not introduced in American elementary schools. Kids here didn’t grow up playing cricket on flat rooftops in India, or in backyards, or in the street. “Every kid plays cricket in India,” says Dilip Rawat, 49, of Manhasset Hills, who owns an accounting firm. He played on his middle school, high school and college teams in India.

Vijay Raghunath, 3, right, plays cricket with his father, Raghunath,...

Vijay Raghunath, 3, right, plays cricket with his father, Raghunath, at their home in Deer Park on May 18. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Echoes Raghunath Ranganath, 50, of Deer Park, also an accountant who grew up in India: “Everybody in India wants to be a professional cricketer at some point in time.”

Every kid does not play cricket in America.

Yet.

With the Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup coming to Long Island’s Eisenhower Park for 11 days beginning June 3, parents who emigrated from India, the West Indies, Pakistan, and other countries where cricket is embraced are hoping that the exposure will lead more kids — their own and others — to try the sport they say is akin to baseball but more exciting because hundreds of runs can be scored in one game. “There’s so much hype,” Ranganath says, with television channels such as ESPN and CNN covering the upcoming tournament excitement. “The whole world plays cricket except America.”

And their children who do play are hoping that their classmates and friends for whom cricket is currently a mystery will try it as well. “That’s the thing I’ve always wanted to happen,” says Ranganath’s son Veer, 9. “Then I can enjoy and have fun playing cricket at recess. I’m one of the only ones who knows how to play.”

ONE MILLION PLAYING BY 2028

The International Cricket Council, which is the sport’s governing body also known as the ICC, shares Veer’s dream. “We would like a million American children playing school cricket leading up to L.A. in 2028,” says Fara Gorsi, Americas Development Manager for the ICC, referring to the 2028 Olympics to be held in Los Angeles. Cricket will become an Olympic sport for the first time in 2028, and the ICC's growth-of-the-sport mantra is “from the playground to the podium.”

Cricket instructor Saad Iqbal, of Bay Shore, guides Fazal Subhani,...

Cricket instructor Saad Iqbal, of Bay Shore, guides Fazal Subhani, 5, of Valley Stream, at the Youth Cricket Festival at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow on May 18. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Toward that end, the ICC offers a Criiio program, an entry-level program that aims to teach the sport to elementary, middle and high school students through a curriculum that aids physical education teachers. Criiio is donating 100 cricket kits that include beginner plastic cricket bats (instead of wood), lighter balls and wickets to be distributed to Nassau County school districts, Gorsi says.

On a recent Friday evening, Criiio hosted a free gathering for families so children could try out the game. The vast majority of the attendees were families in which the parents had emigrated from countries where cricket is played. Adults who play in local cricket leagues coached the children and explained the rules.

“My favorite part is the batting. It’s fun to hit the ball,” says Duaa Ali, 9, of East Meadow, whose father is from Pakistan. Duaa was playing with her cousins, Siffat, 10, Zarwa, 8, and Anaya Ali, 4, all also of East Meadow.

Danika Gowda, 13, of Levittown, practices hitting the ball at...

Danika Gowda, 13, of Levittown, practices hitting the ball at the youth cricket festival at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow on May 18. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Danika Gowda, 13, of Levittown, had never played before; her father, Keshav Shyamsunder, 44, a project manager in construction who emigrated from India, says he wanted her to try the sport. “As parents, we can throw things at them and see what sticks,” he says.

Amanda Jacovina, 49, of Massapequa, was one of the few parents who attended who was not from a country where cricket is played; she was born and raised on Long Island. She saw a flier about the event and brought her two teenage sons, Roan, 13, and Aedan, 16, because she thought it would be a fun thing for two boys to do on a Friday evening.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Aedan says. “It’s kind of like baseball.”

Aedan Jacovina, 16, of Massapequa, throws a ball at the...

Aedan Jacovina, 16, of Massapequa, throws a ball at the youth cricket festival at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Jacovina says she’d like to see cricket become more of a mainstream sport for children. “Anytime you can expand access to activities for kids, it’s a good thing,” she says.

Quaid Riaz, 32, a scientist from Bay Shore who is originally from Pakistan, was one of the league players teaching kids, and he says such free events are the way to grow the sport among the American population. “I think the best way would be if we arrange activities like this,” Riaz says.

FAMILY BONDING TIME

For now, cricket is primarily a bonding experience for families already familiar with the sport who play in their backyards or through local leagues for children. “Our backyard is a cricket stadium,” jokes Veer’s father, Raghunath Ranganath. Veer has been playing with his parents in their yard since he was 5 years old. His mother, Ramya, 42, plays on two women’s teams.

Vijay Raghunath, 3, plays cricket with his brother, Veer, 9,...

Vijay Raghunath, 3, plays cricket with his brother, Veer, 9, at their home in Deer Park on May 18. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

His brother, Vijay, 3, is learning to bat. The family even took a trip to Florida in 2022 to watch live cricket there, where Veer was “very excited” to see players in person, Ramya says. “It’s like a good quality family time,” Ramya says of cricket.

Parents like cricket because it’s a noncontact sport, Ranganath says. “People don’t touch each other, don’t jump on each other, don’t hurt each other,” he says.

When Rawat’s son, Armaan, now 19, was growing up on Long Island, he was intrigued by his parents and uncles and their other Indian friends who would gather to watch a game on television. “They were really into it. There was so much energy,” the Baruch College freshman says.

He began playing with his dad in the backyard when he was about 13. “I’d do my homework and we’d play for an hour or two,” he says. “I started off playing with a group of middle-aged uncles.” He soon took the sport seriously and joined programs such as the Long Island Youth Cricket Academy, playing competitively on Long Island and in Queens every spring and summer. “I really got hooked on it,” he says, even hoping to play professionally.

The Raghunath family watches cricket at home in Deer Park...

The Raghunath family watches cricket at home in Deer Park on May 18. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

That thrilled Dilip; “It just made stronger bond between father and son." Dilip has bought tickets to two of Long Island’s World Cup competitions for himself and Armaan, India vs. U.S.A. and India vs. Ireland.

Naeem Butt, 51 — a business consultant from West Babylon who started playing cricket in Pakistan as soon as he could hold a bat — has also purchased World Cup tickets for his family, hoping his sons, Aleem, 11, a sixth grader, and Kamran, 9, a fourth grader, will catch the cricket bug. Butt still plays in an adult league on Sundays.

Brothers Aleem Butt, 11, and Kamran Butt, 9, learn to...

Brothers Aleem Butt, 11, and Kamran Butt, 9, learn to play cricket at their West Babylon home with their father, Naeem Butt, on May 18. Credit: Howard Simmons

“If you can combine baseball, football, basketball and ice hockey, how passionate people are, that’s how big cricket is in Pakistan and India,” Butt says. “India and Pakistan, they have rivalry like the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Half the world watches the game.” India and Pakistan are set to face off on Long Island on June 9.

So far, though, the boys just play with Dad in their backyard and not in any organized way. Aleem, for one, has been captivated by another sport. “His best friend plays baseball. Now he joined the baseball team. Same thing with my younger son,” Butt says. “When they go in the crowd and they see the excitement, they will see they’re missing out. Once you play cricket, baseball is very boring. The ship has not sailed. I have a hope they will play one day.”

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