New York Cricket: Lawmakers press ahead to make game part of State’s cosmopolitan landscape

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New York Senator Kevin Thomas, the only Indian-American elected to date to the state Senate, posing with a cricket bat testing out the newly-opened Cricket Pitch in Nassau County’s Eisenhower Park in September 2019.
(Photo: courtesy Sen. Kevin Thomas)

Two New York State lawmakers including Indian-American Senator Kevin Thomas, are sponsoring a bill to promote the game of cricket state-wide. The bill is being considered by the NY State Assembly July 20, 2020, after months of work with cricket enthusiasts in the Indian-American community.

Sen. Thomas of Nassau County, the only Indian-American elected to Albany to date, and Assemblywoman  Nily Rozic of Queens are working to pass new legislation to promote and grow the game through Senate bill S7764 and Assembly bill A9823-A). The bill they are sponsoring  would include cricket in the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) list.

S7764A, ” An act to amend the general business law, in relation to including the promotion and expansion of cricket in the state of New York to the jurisdiction of the state athletic commission,” provides the justification for bringing cricket within NYSAC’s purview.

In an interview with Desi Talk, Sen. Thomas said his office has been trying to push forward more bills that affect the fastest growing demographic group in the New York State.

“As the second-most popular sport in the world, cricket brings with it a massive audience and economic development opportunities, and many communities across New York are already embracing cricket,” Thomas noted.

Sen. Thomas first introduced the bill on Feb. 14, 2020, which would add cricket among the list of sports under the jurisdiction of NYSAC.

“Adding cricket to the NYSAC list helps us promote that game more and get this to the point of being as important as … baseball…” Sen. Thomas said. “Everywhere else in the world cricket is a very big sport. It is imperative to give it more prominence here. For South Asian communities, the fastest growing group in New York, it is their favorite game, as it is with the Caribbean diaspora,” he contended.

“As the first Indian-American Senator, I am a voice for the thriving South Asian Community we have here on Long Island and across New York State, and I recognize just how important the sport of cricket is to this community,” Thomas is quoted saying in a press release.

“We recently had two cricket pitches open in Nassau County’s largest and most popular park. This is a great time to help promote the sport and officially recognize its important place in New York,” he said. “I was able to work with the Nassau County Executive to open up brand new fields for cricket,” he said. “I want it to go statewide.”

Assemblywoman Rozic, though not of South Asian heritage, has a large number of people coming from that part of the world to live in her district. “She believes it’s the right thing to do to make cricket part of NYSAC.”

The bill has garnered support from local cricket leagues and community associations across the state, and is on the Debate List to be reviewed in the Assembly tonight. Sen. Thomas told Desi Talk, the bill would come up for consideration in the New York Senate either this week, or in August, depending on the legislative calendar.

ECONOMIC BOOST

Legendary cricket player Sachin Tendulkar at the 2015 All-Star exhibition game at New York’s Citi Field. Dominick Reuter/Reuters

There’s a strong economic argument being made by the Indian-American community. If cricket got the support it needs from the state, it would generate significant revenue, cricket enthusiasts maintain.

For one thing, New York, despite its fastest growing South Asian population, has no clay pitch, unlike several other states like North Carolina, Florida, Texas, California, Michigan, Illinois, etc. complains Ajith C. Bhaskar, a member of the Board of Directors of USA Cricket.

The Big Apple and New York State as a whole will miss the boat if it does not invest in the sport because the major leagues are coming around and in three to five years, if New York is not ready, matches will be played in other states, Bhaskar told Desi Talk.

“In all of New York, we don’t have a clay pitch. So when our kids go to national competitions, they have had no practice on clay pitches,” Bhaskar said.

In 2016, when Sachin Tendulkar came to play in New York, 35,000 people came to watch at the Met Stadium where a temporary clay pitch was constructed.

“If we had a stadium and a pitch of international standards, all the celebrities who like to come to the Big Apple would be here, and all our hotels and restaurants, the hospitality industry would benefit,” Bhaskar says.

He hopes the legislation brought by Sen. Thomas and Assemblywoman Rozic, goes through quickly so that preparations can begin to get the support needed.

“In five years, we are working to get cricket recognized as a national game. It is already the second most-watched game after soccer in the world,” Bhaskar said. “If we don’t have a facility, organizers will go to some other state,” he warned.

The New York Assembly and Senate have begun their in-person meetings though maintaining social distancing  and other safety measures.

Going into the history of cricket which was first played in England in the 14th century, and by the 18th century, had became a national phenomenon, Sen. Thomas notes in his justification how the first game of cricket was played in  North America way back in 1751, when the New York Gazette reported a match between teams from London and New York City.

The rules of the game had already been adopted in 1744.

In 1844, the United States and Canada faced off in a cricket game that was the first international sporting event in the modem world, Sen. Thomas says.

From a small start to now having billions of followers worldwide, cricket in the United States is today boasts teams and leagues that compete on an annual basis around the country.

In 2005, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to build a $1.5 million cricket pitch in St. Albans Park, Queens, the Senator notes in his justification for the bill.

“New York State takes pride in its diversity, and New York City is the world’s most cosmopolitan city — both of which makes for an ideal place for a game such as cricket to thrive,” argues Sen. Thomas, who played the game as a child, he told Desi Talk.

There is a great deal of support and enthusiasm for the game among New Yorkers, says Sen. Thomas who has worked with various clubs and cricket enthusiasts who seek to expand the game, which is hand in hand with the internationalism of the state.

“New York serves as a cultural hub for many regions of the world, cricket will be yet another addition to that multicultural New York,” says the ‘justification’ for the addition of the game to NYSAC’s portfolio.

“Cricket has the money, the glory, the fan base,” noted Bhaskar, all the ingredients needed to make it count among the highest scoring sports in the nation.

The legislation is the first step in preparing the groundwork for success, cricket enthusiasts maintain.

 

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