Howzzat! Indian-Americans increase clout, score first-ever dedicated cricket pitch in Erie County, N.Y.

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Community members and cricket fans gathered in Ellicott Creek Park in Tonawanda, N.Y., July 16, to cheer at the opening ceremony for the first dedicated Cricket ground in Erie County, a recognition of the expanding Indian-American community in the region. (Photo courtesy Sibu Nair)

For Indian-Americans living in the Greater Buffalo area of New York, July 16, was a landmark day, when they proudly inaugurated their newly acquired rights to park land for the first cricket pitch in Erie County in upstate New York. Now the scores of residents and students who suffered broken bones or abrasions in past years while playing in parking lots and hard ground, can expect an enjoyable game on the grass at Ellicott Creek Park in the town of Tonawanda, N.Y.

Close to 275 people came for the inauguration including County Executive Mark  Poloncarz, and senior Parks Department officials. The prize came after 7 months of negotiations with the County Executive office and Parks authorities, led by the India Association of Buffalo (IAB). The current president of IAB, Sibu Nair, told Desi Talk that to-date, despite the lack of a dedicated space for cricket, some 35 to 40 teams met every year to play cricket in the Buffalo area. Now they can use the dedicated park grounds where the community expects to convert the soft pitch to a concrete one after raising enough funds.

Young players along with (from left) County Community Liaison Patrick Ishimwe, community members Kohila Chedda and Bindu Kumar, watch as Sibu Nair, president of India Association of Buffalo, and County Executive Mark Poloncarz , cut the ribbon to launch the first cricket pitch in Erie County July 16. (Photo: Sibu Nair)

Poloncarz, who came for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, said in his speech, “The Erie County parks are for everybody. There are hundreds of cricket players that now have a safe place to play and this is going to open up the sport for others,” Buffalo News reported. “This is going to grow, without a doubt.”

So far the IAB has raised $6,000, Nair told Desi Talk, and that will be used for building a concrete pitch 99 feet by 10 feet which is estimated to cost around $6,500. They also want some bleachers for those coming to watch the games, and a scoreboard, as well as some fencing that could prevent cricket balls being lost in the waters of the creek that runs nearby. The Parks Department will keep up the grass cutting and garbage disposal, and it has already helped roll the soft pitch for the games that avid cricketers are itching to play on, Buffalo News reported.

For Erie County, the plus lies in the several cricket leagues that will come to play, bringing in more revenue in terms of hotel stays, food sales etc., as it does with park space given to baseball fan clubs and soccer enthusiasts. Poloncarz called it a “win-win for everybody,” adding, “You own these parks. They’re yours and we want you to enjoy them,” Buffalo News reported.

Expanding Outreach

The IAB has been recognized by the Erie County Department of Arts and Culture, so there is some stable funding for activities, Nair said, but local businesses and individuals are being tapped to meet the needs.

“A lot of non-Indians are also interested in cricket including people of Pakistani and Nepalese origin, as well as Canadians settled in Buffalo,” Nair said. So IAB is planning to hold classes to teach the game as well.

The IAB is a 35-year old organization that until recent years kept the community together by organizing only a few events annually. “Now a younger generation is taking the lead and the outreach is much greater,” said Nair who is an administrator at the Department of Medicine in the University at Buffalo. The organization helps new students from India with safe transportation from the airport when they first arrive, arranges temporary residences for them; it also carries out a Winter Coat Drive and raises money for the homeless.

Even the Indian Independence Day celebrations are way more ambitious than in previous years. For instance, This Aug. 12, the IAB has managed to nab the Canal Side location downtown for the event, and both the Peace Bridge to Canada nearby, as well as the Niagara Falls will be lit up with the ‘Tiranga’, the Indian flag’s tricolor, Nair told Desi Talk.