What's a game involving bats, balls and runs that's starting to take off in Austin?
While baseball and softball might also fit the bill, cricket—the second-most watched sport in the world—has recently grown in popularity in the Texas capitol.
The game of cricket rings foreign to many American ears—instead of rules, cricket has "laws" and uses gentlemanly terms including "wickets," "dismissals" and "boundaries." But just like America's pastime, the goal is simple: to hit the ball and score as many runs as possible. It's a sport that has spread across former English colonies, from South Asia to the Caribbean. And cricket enjoyed an estimated 2 billion viewers, or nearly 30% of the world population, at the 2015 World Cup.
It's that energy that Raghav Shankar wanted to bring to Austin. Shankar has spent his life playing cricket in different locales—from Singapore to England—and spent his weekends traveling around Texas for matches each weekend before he decided to quit his job three years ago and dedicate himself to teaching the sport.
For reasons sometimes unknown to him, cricket is as essential as eating or walking for Shankar.
Shankar (pictured right) received a Best Umpire Award at the Singapore Cricket Association Awards in 2017. (Raghav Shankar)
"Why is it an integral part of my life? I don't know, to be honest," Shankar told Austonia. "I love it and it brings the best out of me. Whatever leadership skills I've learned in life are through sport to be honest, so that's why I continue doing it. What I and my team of coaches want to teach kids is to basically never give up, not in sport and not in life."
His brainchild, Sport Movement, was originally intended to teach children about the sport. The organization quickly swelled from coaching one boy to around 200 boys and girls, offering after-school classes on cricket, soccer, and fitness.
Sport Movement began as an organization dedicated to teaching kids about cricket. (Raghav Shankar)
Shankar was happy with his business model—but when the pandemic hit and many parents weren't willing to send their kids to in-person coaching, Sport Movement needed a rebrand.
Already a member of the Austin Premier Cricket League, Shankar decided to start his own league. Sports Movement then founded an outdoor cricket night league and the Austin Indoor Cricket League, with the aim to include everyone interested in the game in 2020.
The org now boasts 275 players in the night league and 20 teams in its indoor league. With 90 minute matches vs. the popular 3 hour format (some cricket matches can last up to five days), the league is the only one of its kind in this part of the country. It's also marketed to all ages and skill levels, and Raghav said he's seen plenty of newcomers show up to try out the sport.
The Austin Indoor Cricket League has seen players from nine different countries come to play their favorite sport. (Raghav Shankar)
"Especially when we started indoor cricket, a lot of first timers came and tried out the game," Raghav said. "We saw a lot of Americans, a lot of people who've never tried a cricket game which was amazing because that's what we were trying to do."
Austin has become known as a hub for sports that are off the beaten path—from Brazilian jiu jitsu to roller derby to pickleball. It's that trying spirit that has led so many newcomers to the league. More importantly, however, it's helped build a community for Austin cricket fans from around the world.
"I would like to think our league is the most diverse because of the formats that we've introduced," Raghav said. "We've basically created a community where people come in and they can relate to each other and talk about how they grew up."
A cricket fanbase in America is still relatively small but continues to grow, with a new Major League Cricket league planned to begin in 2022. But Raghav says it'll be a while before cricket pitches are built next to baseball fields in American cities.
"The first thing is that we need cricket to be accepted and understood by Americans, but 99% of Americans don't play the sport yet," Raghav said. "In order to become truly successful, it has to be played by locals... cricket wants to grow, but it will take a long time before it becomes as big as any other sport."
The Austin Indoor 8s League will begin its 2022 season on Saturday at the Crossover in Leander, where the league will play every Saturday and Sunday through Feb. 27. Check out more info on the league here.
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The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call an emergency special legislative session to consider a variety of gun restrictions and safety measures in the wake of a mass school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two adults dead this week.
In a letter released Saturday morning, all 13 Senate Democrats demanded lawmakers pass legislation that raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 years old. The Uvalde gunman was 18 and had purchased two AR-style rifles which he used in the attack.
The caucus is also calling for universal background checks for all firearm sales, “red flag” laws that allow a judge to temporarily remove firearms from people who are considered an imminent threat to themselves or others, a “cooling off period” for the purchase of a firearm and regulations on high capacity magazines for citizens.
“Texas has suffered more mass shootings over the past decade than any other state. In Sutherland Springs, 26 people died. At Santa Fe High School outside Houston, 10 people died. In El Paso, 23 people died at a Walmart. Seven people died in Midland-Odessa,” the letter reads. “After each of these mass killings, you have held press conferences and roundtables promising things would change. After the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, those broken promises have never rung more hollow. The time to take real action is now.”
Such laws are unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has a track record of favoring legislation that loosens gun restrictions. Only the governor has the power to call lawmakers back into a special session for emergency work.
Asked about a special session at a Friday press conference in Uvalde, Abbott said “all options are on the table” adding that he believed laws would ultimately be passed to address this week’s horrors. However, he suggested laws would be more tailored toward addressing mental health, rather than gun control.
“You can expect robust discussion and my hope is laws are passed, that I will sign, addressing health care in this state,” he said, “That status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We’re not going to be here and do nothing about it.”
He resisted the idea of increasing the age to purchase a firearm, saying that since Texas became a state, 18-year-olds have been able to buy a gun.
He also dismissed universal background checks saying existing background check policies did not prevent the Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs shootings, which both happened while he has been in office.
“If everyone wants to seize upon a particular strategy and say that’s the golden strategy right there, look at what happened in the Santa Fe shooting,” he said. “A background check had no relevance because the shooter took the gun from his parents…Anyone who suggests we should focus on background checks as opposed to mental health, I suggest is mistaken.”
Since the massacre at Robb Elementary School, the governor’s comments about potential solutions have centered around increasing mental health services, rather than restricting access to firearms.
This story has been edited for length.
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Designs for stations along Project Connect’s Blue Line were presented this week, giving a detailed look at what part of the rail system extending from downtown to the airport could look like.
The planned stations that have gotten the latest focus include Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore stations past Lady Bird Lake.
At the Waterfront station, the preliminary design aims to prevent visual obstructions and save on costs. This is accomplished by a transit guideway that will lower from the bridge to a level station.
Heading onto East Riverside Drive, the light rail faces a curve requiring a slow down to about 10 miles per hour.
The Travis Heights station could involve relocating a pedestrian crosswalk zone at Alameda Drive to Blunn Creek. Since light rails can't effectively operate on a steep grade, this allows the transit guideway to avoid that.
From there, the rail will extend to the Norwood Park area, and though it will reach along the right-of-way zone, the park will be able to remain open.
A view of the Blue Line by Lady Bird Lake. (Project Connect)
The line involves some coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation. That's because the department is working on an intersection that will have to be built before the phasing of the section of the Blue Line involving an I-35 crossing.
When it comes to the safety of cyclists and walkers, design ideas include a pedestrian hybrid beacon by East Bouldin Creek that would provide a protected signal to cross. And for the intersection TxDOT is carrying out, Project Connect is working with them on pedestrian access across the intersection. It could involve shared use paths along the street and crossings beneath it.
This summer, the public can expect 30% of design and cost estimates to be released. Though the project was $7.1 billion when voters approved it in November 2020, the latest estimates factoring in inflation and supply chain constraints show it could ultimately be upwards of $10 billion.
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