The feet of 22 women pound the turf: batting, bowling and running in the first ever USA Cricket’s Women’s Regional Championships in 2021. The sun baked the players on a historic day for women’s cricket in America, and Aparna Bhadriraju reveled in the cool bliss of playing with her daughter for their country.
She never thought it would happen.
“It was like my dream came true,” Bhadriraju said. “To be honest, it’s the best feeling I ever had, everybody thinking, ‘Mom and daughter are playing on one team, wow.’”
When Bhadriraju lived in India, her greatest desire was to pursue cricket. But for the time she was there, the most acceptable ground for women to play cricket on was a neighborhood street. Today in America, Bhadriraju’s past inspires her daughter Bhumika to play on.
“It just felt like it felt like I was doing something that she wasn’t able to do,” Bhadriraju’s daughter Bhumika said. “So that’s what resonated with me.”
The Bhadriraju’s are only a small part of a recent surge in cricket, a sport most comparable to baseball. Yet cricket is a more finely tuned, complex 42-rule version of many field sports. USA Cricket says more than 200,000 Americans play cricket. And one of the sport’s liveliest communities is in Morrisville, North Carolina.
Bhadriraju and Bhumika first played together in 2017 and were joined by a handful of other mothers and daughters, excited by the Triangle Cricket League’s promotion to try a few women’s practices.
“It’s still kind of crazy actually,” said Mitali Patwardhan, one of the first girls to join the Women’s Triangle Cricket League (W-TCL). “It’s been like five years now since we started playing, and there’s already enough women interested, at least in our area, to have this many teams.”
Yet, the growth is relative. Seventy-three women are registered to play with W-TCL. The men’s league, formed in 2010, has 3,800 players registered.
It was the recommendation of cricket coach and analyst Rohaan Gosala, that created a space for women’s cricket in the area.
“We need to start women’s cricket, so that in future, when the women start playing, slowly the girls will start playing, and maybe after four years or five years, we can see the results of that,” Gosala said in 2017 and a year before the W-TCL division was formed.
In the same year, USA Cricket brought a blast of life to the American cricket community by winning the “Auty Cup,” a North American men’s cricket tournament between the U.S. and Canada, for the first time in 26 years.
That energy carried over into the formation of W-TCL. However, both Gosala and W-TCL coordinator Rupali Ullal emphasize that the growth, past and future, comes from the girls and women who hunger to play.
“In my mind it’s all about providing an opportunity,” Ullal said. “If someone wants to play we’re going to make sure you’re going to play.”
At the heart of the surge lies a handful of mothers and daughters.
Three of the original five Under 19 (U-19) players attend school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Patwardhan, Bhariraju and Geetika Kudali, the USA Cricket U-19 captain and member of Team USA.
Nearly all the U-19 women spent their childhoods on living room floors watching cricket on televisions in India and America.
Their mothers, and others who make up the senior portion of W-TCL, spent their early 20s and 30s playing cricket on the streets, frustrated by the social barriers that blocked competition for them beyond the local neighborhood.
While the U-19 women are riding the first wave of American women’s cricket, most TCL senior players remember the 90s when cricket was a rarity.
“When I came here, there was nothing, no cricket at all,” senior W-TCL player Supriya Desai said. “Forget about women’s cricket, there were no men playing either.”
When Desai moved to Cary, N.C., during the 90s, she wanted to bring together her community of other immigrants from Karnataka, India. Before the N.C. league, playing at picnics with other Indian immigrants fed the life of the sport in North Carolina.
When five original TCL women began playing cricket together, each ABOUT 13 or 14 years old, they played on boys’ teams because there weren’t enough girls to form a full women’s cricket team.
“Let’s say you’re, like, entrusted with a responsibility – like a crucial part of the game – they kind of expect you to screw up already,” Patwardhan said. “So if they give you one chance and you like it, don’t do so great, they don’t give you another chance for a while.”
Going from softer balls to the cricket-regulated tough, leather balls, and against boys who’d been playing since they were 8 years old, the women were starting from square one.
It was discouraging, almost pushing Patwardhan to quit cricket for good.
“Part of my reasoning was everyone was a guy, and I’m the only girl – why would I do this?” Patwardhan said. “Then, once the Women’s League started, I was like, wait a minute, everyone’s like me, this might actually be kind of fun.”
The sheer presence of women’s teams in America, recreationally and nationally, signals a hopeful shift in the social dynamics of cricket. This wouldn’t just be good for the women playing, and their fans, but for all in the cricketing community who want to see the sport achieve greater recognition.
Cricket analyst Nate Hays notes that the overall cricket growth in the country will be stunted without more women involved. Especially since 10,000 female players are required for the sport to be even considered an NCAA sport.
“This points out how much harder it is for women to play cricket than men,” Hays said. “They don’t get the same opportunity, the same schedules, they don’t get the same priority, and here in the USA, that’s especially true.”
Women’s cricket aside, America is in a unique rung on the international rankings ladder. Hays said that USA Cricket either dominates in every tournament they play, OR they’re completely decimated. Very few teams are in the same spot as USA Cricket because the program is still so fresh.
Prior to 2021, there was no women’s presence on the national stage of cricket. And now there’s both a national women’s team and a U-19 cricket team.
According to a recent GeekWire article, a $120 million investment was put into USA Cricket in May 2022. And even more recently it was announced that cricket will be played in the Los Angeles-based 2028 Summer Olympics—for both the men’s and women’s teams.
There are about a billion people in the world who play cricket, watch cricket, and support cricket in every way they can.
“Why I’m invested in this is because I always felt that my mom didn’t have an opportunity or an environment where she could grow in cricket those days in India,” Gosala said. “Not many people know that about me.”
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