MANCHESTER, NH – All I know about cricket is from comedian Hassan Manaj. In a 2019 episode of the popular Netflix show “The Patriot Act,” I learned that cricket is the second most popular sport in the world, next to soccer. However, cricket is not a game we typically see people playing in Manchester. On Memorial Day morning roughly 20 international students from India gather to play cricket on a baseball field in Livingston Park.
The energy is jovial as players call out to one another, cheer and laugh. I watch the pitchers throw powerful overhand throws, known as bowling. Batters take swings. Sometimes they manage to hit the ball then run toward the pitcher who is standing by a three-pronged wooden frame called a wicket. Other team members scatter around the outfield. In the shade of the stone-and-wooden bleachers, I ask Harsha Jeeru, 24, a student at Southern New Hampshire University, how long their group has been playing cricket. He replies “since childhood.” I laugh and clarify my question: When did he and others start playing cricket in Manchester?
Rama Rao Pavuluri, 25, graduated from Plymouth State University last year. Now he works at a restaurant in Manchester. He tells me that he and Navi Avhad, 32, organized the group in early May through Whatsapp. Most of the players are students from SNHU, University of New Hampshire, and New England College. Pavuluri and Avhad played on a cricket team in Portland called the Maine Indians. When I ask who the Maine Indians play against, Pavuluri tells me about the Merrimack Cricket League, a league consisting of 35 teams mostly in the Boston area. New Hampshire does not have an official cricket team. Pavuluri and Avhad are working to change that.
“We don’t want to drive one hour to Boston or two hours to Portland to play cricket,” says Pavuluri. He admits there is turnover in players every six months to a year because most players are in Manchester to earn advanced degrees. Pavuluri says he and a few others are here to stay and they want to grow Manchester’s cricket scene. To find more players he is reaching out to the Nepalese and Bhutanese communities in Manchester with hopes of finding more players. Though Pavuluri is not a coach he says that he and his teammates can teach.
“We have one or two American kids who are interested in learning.” He says that if anyone is interested in playing cricket, they can connect with the NH Cricket Whatsapp.
“We started the group. Once we form our own team we want to bring the Maine Indians to Manchester for tournaments,” says Avhad. “We are looking for sponsors so we can get helmets, bats, balls, mats.” A cricket team needs 11 players, 22 players to play a full game.
Nikhil Nalluri, 24, and his friend Sharath, are both working on their master’s degrees in Information Technology at SNHU. They tell me that some parks near Boston have their own designated cricket fields, but a baseball field works well enough for playing cricket.
In the final minutes of the game, Sharath explains that they have one ball and one run. “If he (the batter) doesn’t score, the match will be tied.” At that moment, the batter hit the ball. Everyone cheered and ran into the field. The match was over.