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Batter up: Cricket community becomes latest sport to build in Austin

Austin's night cricket league has 90-minute matches at the Crossover in Leander. (Raghav Shankar)

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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