Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
When cricket enthusiasts wanted to show City officials how much they desired a place to play their sport, they showed up to an informal meeting with Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger armed with bats, balls, and other equipment. They were prepared to provide a full tutorial to demonstrate their passion.
Bridger and two City Council members got the message, and two cricket fields are in the early stages of construction near O.P. Schnabel Park
on a portion of land acquired by the City when the Alamo Golf Club closed in 2017. Officials are hoping to have the new cricket fields on San Antonio’s Northwest Side ready for play in April.
City Council approved $50,000 for the project, which was backed by Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) and Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7). By identifying available land and funding, they saw an opportunity to address the need during the City’s recent budget process.
The push for fields dedicated to cricket came from members of the community who originally hail from parts of the world where cricket is hugely popular.
Sandeep Bollu, vice president of Cricket of San Antonio, said he worked for months with officials in the City’s Parks and Recreation department to encourage the project at O.P. Schnabel. Anwar Tahir, an avid fan of the sport who also is president of the San Antonio Association of Convenience Store Retailers, helped sell the idea to Pelaez, Bridger, and other City officials.
“They approached me and said, ‘Look, we love our city, our kids are here and we intend to be here forever and ever, but we want our city to be more relevant to us,” Pelaez said of Tahir and other community members. “They said, ‘We don’t have a legit cricket pitch.’”
Tahir said he and some of his fellow store owners had yearned for a dedicated cricket field in the city for some time.
“We’re a group of small business owners,” Tahir said he told City officials. “You tell us all the time we’re the backbone of this economy. Can you help us [on] this little thing?”
Tahir said there are thousands of local residents from parts of the cricket-loving world such as the Middle East, Asia, South Africa, and Great Britain, and he is sure the new fields will be widely used.
San Antonio already is home to several dozen cricket teams, including 10 in the San Antonio Cricket Association. Sol Hooda, the association’s president, said he approached the City about providing cricket fields six years ago and was turned down.
That’s when he started the association with six teams and began keeping records of the league on its website so he could eventually show consistency and growth in the sport that would prove the need for fields. There are 18 players per team in SACA. Hooda said he was not involved in the push for fields this time, but he is thankful City leaders approved the project.
“I anticipate it probably being booked for the whole year, every weekend,” Hooda said of the new fields. “I’m serious, because everybody will want to play and maybe even people will book in advance.”
A recent study by the International Cricket Council found 200,000 people play the sport in the United States and millions more Americans consider themselves fans. With 2.5 billion fans, cricket is the world’s second most popular sport, behind soccer, according to worldatlas.com.
For now, some local cricket teams play at the GVTC Communications Sportsplex, a private field near Bulverde, on weekends when they’re not traveling to larger tournaments in other cities, Tahir said. Hooda said SACA pays $1,000 per month in rental fees to be able to use the field. Cricket is played year-round.
Cricket of San Antonio currently plays many of its matches at Tom Slick Park near Loop 410 and Highway 151. Cricket is played year-round.
Bridger said the willingness of Tahir’s group to teach the game to kids in San Antonio was an important selling point for her. That will likely be done through volunteers at the nearby O.P. Schnabel YMCA.
“This isn’t just about people who moved here and grew up playing cricket and now have a place to play,” Bridger said. “This is an opportunity to have our kids learn a new sport. That’s exciting as well.”
Tahir said there are several San Antonio-area high schools where cricket clubs have started.
“On a local level, the kids are interested and they are gathering more people,” he said.
When the two local fields are ready for play, the local cricket clubs will be able to organize tournaments that bring teams – and their supporters – here from other parts of the state, including Dallas and Houston, which have active cricket leagues.
“We can host maybe 25 to 30 teams at a time,” Tahir said.
Homer Garcia, assistant director of the Parks and Recreation department, said workers are designing the irrigation system for the fields. Some grading will happen starting in January to bring the fields into shape, he said.
As in baseball, cricket fields do not have required dimensions. However, the game typically is played on an oval–shaped field with no boundary being longer than 90 yards or shorter than 65 yards from the center of the pitch.
In the middle of the field is a 22-yard, 10-foot-wide pitch where the bowler – similar to a pitcher in baseball – attempts to knock two wooden bails off of three wooden wickets that stand 2 feet, 4 inches tall. The batter’s job is to protect the wickets by hitting the ball away, with each batter running safely to their partner’s crease to score a run.
The players in the field try to get the batters out. Once 10 batters are out, the teams switch batting and fielding. Once both teams have batted, the team with the most runs wins.
Pelaez said it made sense to locate the fields at O.P. Schnabel because there are many families in that section of the city who are originally from Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and other parts of Asia.
“Councilwoman Sandoval agreed that this a growing population in both of our districts, and we want them and their families to feel welcome in our parks and we want them to find a reason to go out to our parks,” Pelaez said. “This is something they have all gotten behind.”