WESTBOROUGH – Inside the new Max Cricket Sports store on Milk Street, cricket is the word, and the world.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, several local players checked out the bats, balls and other equipment available for purchase. One “pinged” a ball off a bat, while another prepped a new bat by striking it repeatedly with a small mallet.
All of them have played cricket since childhood; all of them have a passion for the sport.
“It’s been my passion since childhood,” said Anil Dhingra, a U.S. Masters level player, a founder and captain of a local team in the New England Cricket Association and one of the store’s four partners. “I’m living the passion [with the store].”
“It’s a great passion in India … it’s where people can socialize,” said Mukesh Sharma.
Sharma is a Westborough resident who coordinates the 12-team Boston Patriots Cricket League. He is also the co-host of the 15-team Millbury Champions Cricket League and captain of the Riders team.
Soon, Sharma and other local players will have an opportunity to play cricket on the grounds of the former Westborough State Hospital.
Act globally, play locally
Max Cricket Sports is more than a place to find bats, balls, padding, wickets and more. It’s a way to tap into a sport – and a culture – that’s been around for hundreds of years.
Cricket is a sport best known in Britain and its former colonies, such as India. It’s starting to make headway in the United States, thanks mainly to immigrants from India and other cricket-loving countries.
“Cricket is a religion,” said Max Cricket Sports Partner Bhaskar Bandyopadhyay. “For some, cricket is like God. It’s that passion, that love.”
Bandyopadhyay said that there are several forms of cricket, which has some similarities to baseball.
There’s the original “Test” cricket, which can last five days. As part of this form, each team is supposed to play two innings each.
One-day cricket can last up to 50 overs per innings; each team is allowed to play one innings.
T-20 cricket, the most popular version, has 20 overs each innings and lasts about three hours.
And there’s the 100-ball game, with 100 balls per innings, and a fielding change every 10 balls, or a T-10 game where each innings duration is 10 overs.
In each version, cricket is played with two teams, usually with 11 players on each side and two umpires. The field is a large oval between 450 and 500 feet, with a pitch 22 yards long and about 3 yards wide in the center, where the batter stands and balls bowled. There is an infield and outfield, with the pitch in the middle.
One team bats, the other team fields. The batter, or striker, will take pitches from the bowler, while the other batter, the non-striker, stands at the other end of the pitch.
At each end of the pitch are wickets; each wicket has two “bails” on top. The strikers stand in front of each wicket, while a wicket-keeper, the only player allowed to wear gloves and shin pads, stands behind the wicket. They catch any balls the striker fails to hit.
The bowler will try to get the striker “dismissed,” or out, by aiming at the wicket and knocking down the “bails.” The striker tries to hit the ball before it hits the wicket. Should the striker hit the ball, both strikers run back and forth to the wickets to score runs.
Strikers can run on singles, twos or threes, or can score a boundary or over boundary (similar to a home run; the striker’s team is awarded four or six runs depending on whether the ball pitched before crossing the boundary); or extras (penalties on the fielding team, such as an illegal delivery from a bowler).
The fielding team disperses around the field to either stop runs from being scored, or to get the strikers out. When one bowler has delivered six balls, that’s an over; another member of the fielding team is given the ball and bowls the next over from the opposite end of the pitch.
Once all the members of the batting team have taken their turn, the teams switch sides.
As in baseball, the team scoring the most runs wins.
The balls, which are made of leather, vary by weight and size. The smaller “tape” ball, which resembles a tennis ball, is for those starting out in the sport. For enthusiasts, there’s a slightly larger “level 2” ball; for professional level, a “level 1” ball is the same size as a “level 2” ball, but harder.
Bandyopadhyay said a professional-level bowler can send a ball up to 100 miles per hour – equal to a fastball in baseball.
Hence the helmet, gloves and padding for the striker, and shin pads and gloves for the wicket-keeper. For those just starting out, this equipment is not necessary.
Cricket bats also vary by size and weight; they are made of willow and are wider than baseball bats. The spine on the back gives the bat extra strength.
Bandyopadhyay said players can hold the bat in several different ways to find their “sweet spot.”
Wickets and bails can be made of wood or other materials. More advanced models have sensors on the stumps and LED lights on the bails – these help the umpires in deciding close plays, as well as allowing the game to be played at night.
Second cricket pitch
There are teams throughout Massachusetts, including Ashland, Hopkinton, Grafton, Millbury and Natick.
The Westborough Cricket League plays on a pitch at Hennessy Field on Upton Street. The town recently approved the building of a second pitch at the former state hospital grounds.
“We are excited to bring the opportunity for people to play more cricket here in Westborough,” said Westborough Recreation Director Jenn Kirkland. “It is a very high-demand facility [at the state hospital], and we are thankful to have the support of the Select Board and the town to be able to build a second location.”
Westborough Recreation plans to offer cricket in the near future; cricket is also offered as part of the physical education module at Mill Pond Elementary School.
For Amegan Anandan, a Westford resident visiting the store with his father, he likes to play hockey, but he is getting to like cricket more.
“I like how the game is played,” he said. “They pitch the ball down, and you hit it hard – the bat has more surface.”
The store hopes to open a cricket academy once it receives permission from the town.