When the Harvard Cricket Club snatched a victory from their new rivals at Princeton recently, the hero of the day was not one of the team’s players from a cricket-playing country. The batsman who secured the win with an impressive series of “not outs” grew up playing baseball and street hockey in Lynn.
“I’ve played a lot of sports, but cricket is by far the best,” said Dan Yetman, a sophomore philosophy major, preparing to stretch before a Harvard home match earlier this month. “It’s such a gentleman’s game.”
After years of dormancy in America, cricket is making a rapid comeback at American colleges and universities, and the players are from a number of foreign nations — and from here in the United States. From the five teams (including Boston University) that took part in the first modern college championship tournament in 2009, there are now 70 clubs competing across the country, made up largely — but not exclusively — of students who are first- or second-generation immigrants from nations such as India, Pakistan, and parts of the Caribbean where the game is popular. And the game has caught on quickly in education-rich New England, where Northeastern, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bryant University, and Worcester Polytechnic, to name a few, have each established cricket clubs over the past few years.
There was a time, believe it or not, when cricket was the most popular team sport in the nation. Harvard’s original cricket team was formed all the way back in 1868. The club lost its varsity status in 1902, when interest in cricket had died off here, victimized by the emergence of those other, more “American” games like baseball and football, which began to appear on college campuses in the latter half of the 19th century.
But the game, fueled in part by an influx of overseas students, is suddenly thriving again in this country. As a Harvard sophomore two years ago, Ibrahim Khan joined a small group of fellow enthusiasts who played the casual form of cricket, with a tennis ball covered in electrical tape.
“The first year, we struggled to put a team together,” recalled Khan, who is now the captain of the Harvard club. Last year the team competed for the first time in matches sanctioned by American College Cricket, the four-year-old ruling body. This year they are ranked first in their league. In all, the ACC has member teams from schools as diverse and far-flung as California State University Long Beach and the University of Southern California to Indiana University, Northwestern, and Cleveland State to Virginia Tech and West Texas A&M.
“If we can win the league in my final year, I think that would be a fantastic step for the club in only its second year,” said the tall, poised Khan, who wore the number 1 on his black warmup suit. He’d just unlocked the gate of Jordan Field inside Harvard’s sprawling athletic complex, where the team practices and plays.
The team’s home field is actually the field hockey pitch, which is covered in synthetic turf that sometimes gets soaked by rain, making the heavy leather cricket ball even heavier. It’s not ideal, said Khan, but the team is happy to have earned its club status, which means more access to facilities and some financial support from the