Bat and Bowl? Illinois Tech’s Cricket Community Open to All Interested in Unique Sport



By Thaddeus Mast

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Illinois Tech students enjoy the final game of the cricket indoor league.

Overshadowed in the United States by baseball, the unique sport of cricket found itself in the limelight as dozens of players and fans watched the semifinal and final games of the Illinois Tech Recreational Sports and Fitness Cricket League in March.

Teams of seven filled one half of Keating Sports Center. A bowler—similar to a pitcher in baseball—hurled a tennis ball wrapped in stiff tape (cricket balls are hard and could damage flooring) at a batter preparing to hit the ball anywhere without a catcher.

Bouts of cheers and laughter came from the sideline spectators, many who are international students from South Asia and India, where cricket is the sport.

“The first ball I remember picking up was a cricket ball,” says Rishi Shukla (CS 4th Year), as he stood refereeing a semifinal game. “[Cricket] has been with us since we grew up. People in the U.S. maybe have a basketball [hoop] in their backyards. We all had this bat and ball.”

Shukla, an Indian international student, helped revive the Cricket League, as well as the IIT Cricket Club, with Rishi Shah (ARCH 4th Year), another international student, four years ago.

While Shukla knew enough cricket players to play games, he knew plenty of new students needed help finding a group of friends to play. Creating a university-approved club became his priority.

“The club makes it easier for everyone to come together in one place. If you are a new student and you want to play but you don’t know people—this is not a one- or two-person game. You need at least eight people to play this game in a good manner,” Shukla says. “That was the main motivation to make the club. People should have that resource to have a group of people to play with.”

The league got equipment funding and school-wide advertising to reach those new, cricket-loving students. The most recent outdoor league had eight teams, and the indoor league had five groups. Their social media presence is also growing, so people can get a game going outside of official league games.

“We encourage everyone to come play cricket. We love the sport, and we want everyone to at least see how it’s played and, if they play, enjoy it,” Shukla says.

The indoor games are played on one basketball court at Keating—about four times smaller than a normal cricket field. Outside, the batter stands near the middle of the oval-shaped pitch, allowing for 360 degrees of play. Indoors, players are only allowed to hit forward. Nearly half of hits strike the ceiling instead of flying hundreds of feet.

“Oh, indoors is much worse,” says Rachit Jain (ME 4th Year), who also helped restart the community his first year. “You can’t do nearly as much as outdoors.”

But Chicago has months of cold weather and snow. Some players can’t wait all winter to play cricket, and the gym league is just enough to scratch that nagging sports itch until spring comes.

March 12 marked the end of the indoor league with the Green Shaheens winning with 62 runs (it’s much easier to rack up points inside than in the open field, players say).

A day-long tournament set for April will be open to anyone, and Shukla hopes students interested in the game, regardless of skill level, come and play.

Photo: An Illinois Tech student bats during the Cricket League tournament on Saturday, March 12, 2022, at Keating Sports Center.