Sporting Life

A club makes the case for cricket

After decades of false starts, Yale fields a nationally successful team.

Evan Frondorf ’14, a risk analyst in San Francisco, writes frequently about sports for the magazine.

Yaakov Huba ’23

Yaakov Huba ’23

Yale’s club cricket team, seen here at the northeast regionals last fall, made it to the national semifinals last year. View full image

It takes a little ingenuity to keep up with your cricket game during the Connecticut winter. For the Yale Cricket Club, that means heading to a baseball training facility in Hamden. “We convert two batting cages back-to-back lengthwise to get the strip we need,” says captain Ram Vishwanathan ’21. “That gives us just enough space for an Astroturf pitch.”

On a campus that offers indoor rowing tanks and a polo hitting cage, cricket has never been much of a priority. Although the sport spread around the British Commonwealth and became especially popular in South Asia, it has always struggled to take hold in the United States. Since 1887, when Yale ignominiously failed to field a team in response to a challenge from Harvard in the Yale Daily News, cricket teams have sprung up and disappeared—frequently.

The most recent revival came in the early 2010s, when, according to Vishwanathan, the club consisted of “three or four guys going to the Branford courtyard and hitting a tennis ball around.” In 2012, the still-fledgling Yale team faced Harvard, and was easily bested.

Since then, the club has grown considerably in size and strength. While the practice facilities are still makeshift, home games are played on cricket grounds in New Haven and Danbury. As of this season, Vishwanathan says there are more than 40 active members of the club, with about half the roster made up of students and staff of Yale graduate and professional schools. There’s even a professor on the team: Dhanpat Jain, director of the gastrointestinal pathology program at the School of Medicine.

Vishwanathan says most of his teammates have ties to the South Asian diaspora, but other interested students have picked up the game. Wisconsin native Michael Kearney ’20 joined the club after seeing cricket coverage on ESPN and quickly became a devoted student of the game. “They were extremely welcoming although I had no cricket experience whatsoever,” Kearney says. “It was a pretty brutal learning curve at first.” He caught on, though, and even played a few games with an amateur team in Munich over the summer.

Last year, the Yale club made it to the semifinals at the national championship tournament held by the National College Cricket Association in Houston. This year, with a runner-up performance at a regional tournament in October, they once again qualified for nationals in the spring. Most importantly, they’ve also beat the Crimson five years in a row—including a 119-run victory in fall 2019. In the fast-paced world of modern cricket, where games last a few hours rather than days, that’s a significant margin.

Beyond Yale, the club has loftier hopes to grow the game globally. Vishwanathan, who was born in Bangalore, India, believes that “the future of cricket at Yale will be in some way tied to the future of cricket in the US.” There is interest in that future in India: in 2018, the Indian streaming service Hotstar produced a documentary series called US6: The Homecoming, in which six aspiring American cricketers traveled to India to train and meet cricket legends. Former Yale captain Mrinal Kumar ’18—an American who didn’t play cricket until college—was one of the six. “The fact that the show happened encapsulates that there’s a lot more interest in cricket in the US,” says Vishwanathan. “And we want to make it a game for everyone.”

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