Public Schools Athletic League Cricket playoffs begin

NEW YORK CITY - The Public Schools Athletic League Cricket (PSAL) playoffs kicked off on Tuesday with some student athletes starting their quest for a championship title.

The nation’s first varsity cricket league in New York City has doubled from its start at 14 teams to 30 across the city with 500 student athletes playing cricket like Jaden.

"I grew up around it, so I’ve always played it, I got to love the game," Jaden said.

As the sport progresses on its path to the mainstream, John Adams High School’s varsity team is making a run in the playoffs that started Tuesday.

"I’m excited for it and looking forward to winning this match because in my team we have some baseman and good ballers," said Ralphy, a senior.

His head cricket coach Alex Navarette hopes their match up against Franklin K. Lane High School leads to another cricket championship for the school.

"We’ve been in 10 finals in 17 years and looking forward to getting a sixth championship," Navarette told FOX 5.

As head coach, Navarette said he can’t take much of the credit.

"I’m lucky because they come with a foundation. We get a lot of kids from the West Indies, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. They come into your building knowing the knowledge already," he added.

Players like Jaden spend most of his weekends playing with teammates, considering himself lucky to be in a school district where the sport is growing.

"Some games are good. Some games are bad, but it’s always fun because we play to win but we have fun," Jaden expressed.

"We’re right up there with baseball, football and basketball. We treat it equally in the PSAL," Bassett Thompson, New York City Cricket Commissioner, said.

Tuesday's match-up at Baisley Pond Park is one of eight playoff games starting in the district. It's safe to assume many of the players are going to be watching the Cricket World Cup starting next week, hoping one day they’ll be a part of it.

What is the T20 World Cup?

The T20 World Cup will be the first major international cricket competition in the U.S., but the centuries-old English game has been flourishing in the far-flung corners of metro New York for years, fueled by steady waves of South Asian and Caribbean immigration. Each spring, parks from the Bronx and Queens to Long Island and New Jersey come alive with recreational leagues hosting weekend competitions.

American cricket organizers hope the June competition will take the sport’s popularity to the next level, providing the kind of lasting boost across generations and cultures that soccer enjoyed when the U.S. hosted its first FIFA World Cup in 1994. On Wednesday, retired Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, an honorary ambassador of the T20 World Cup, visited the nearly complete Eisenhower stadium, along with members of the U.S. cricket squad and former New York football and basketball greats.

History and facts about Cricket

Cricket is the second most-viewed sport in the world after soccer — India star Virat Kohli has 268 million Instagram followers — but it is only played by more than 200,000 Americans nationwide across more than 400 local leagues, according to USA Cricket, which oversees the men’s national cricket team.

Major League Cricket launched last year in the U.S. with six professional T20 teams, including a New York franchise that, for now, plays some games at a Dallas-area stadium also hosting World Cup matches.

Cricket has a long history in the U.S. and New York, in particular.

The sport was played by American troops during the Revolutionary War, and the first international match was held in Manhattan between the city’s St. George’s Cricket Club and Canada in 1844, according to Stephen Holroyd, a Philadelphia-area cricket historian.

As late as 1855, New York newspapers were still devoting more coverage to cricket than baseball, but the sport remained stubbornly insular, with British-only cricket clubs hindering its growth just as baseball was taking off, he said.

By the end of World War I, cricket had largely disappeared — until immigrants from India and other former British colonies helped revive it roughly half a century later.

Anubhav Chopra, a co-founder of the Long Island Premier League, a nearly 15-year-old men’s league that plays in another local park, is among the more than 700,000 Indian Americans in the New York City area — by far the largest community of its kind in the country.

The Babylon resident has never been to a professional cricket match but has tried to share his love for the game he played growing up in New Delhi with his three American children, including his 9-year-old son who takes cricket lessons.

Chopra bought tickets to all nine games taking place at Eisenhower and is taking his wife, kids and grandparents to the June 3 match between Sri Lanka and South Africa.

"For me, cricket is life," he said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

The dense latticework of metal rods and wood sheets that make up Eisenhower’s modular stadium will come down soon after the cup games end, but the cricket field will remain, minus the rectangular surface in the middle known as the pitch.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said what’s left lays a "world-class" foundation for local cricket teams — and perhaps a future home for a professional team.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.