Cricket’s popularity grows in Tech community

Huge shots into a sea of screaming fans, wickets tumbling — these aspects make cricket one of the most watched and followed sports in the world. This year is a major one for the sport on the international level as Australia and New Zealand host the 50-over format ICC Cricket World Cup, the sport’s biggest event. India has a massive following both at home and among Indians around the world and these fans are following the tournament closely as India looks to retain its throne at the 2015 event.

Tech itself has a thriving cricket community of enthusiastic fans and players. The India Club at Georgia Tech (ICGT) is responsible for most of the intra-Tech cricket activities and tournaments, such as the recently concluded Danny and Naren Spring Cricket Tournament.

Apart from India Club’s cricket events, the Georgia Tech Cricket Club (GTCC) runs a team which participates in cricket tournaments in the Atlanta area and also nationally.

Cricket on campus is not confined to organized tournaments, though. On weekends, the Roe Stamps Field is filled with students playing recreational cricket, using tennis balls in place of traditional cricket balls.

“In terms of spreading cricket around Tech, the Cricket Club will be participating in many events to teach Tech students about the game,” said Ribhu Sengupta, president of the GTCC. “SGA has an event in April featuring international sports and the cricket club will have a table there to teach all interested.”

The ICGT has made an effort to organize group screenings of India’s matches over the seven-week tournament which concludes in late March. The most popular events are India vs. Pakistan matches, as they feature one of the most famous rivalries in the sport. The rivalry has historical context, dating back to the era when India was ruled by the British Empire, and the matches themselves tend to be closely contested battles.

The India-Pakistan World Cup match on Feb. 14 was screened at North Avenue’s Centennial Room and the event attracted numerous students on a Saturday night as they cheered on
their teams.

Even people unfamiliar with the game turned up in large numbers to witness a sporting spectacle. The match began at 10:30 p.m. EST and lasted eight hours, continuing into the wee hours of the morning but plenty of attendees watched to the end as India secured a 76-run victory.

By many accounts, cricket is the second-most popular sport in the world after soccer. However, its popularity is still in its infancy in America. Universities that attract a large number of international students, like Tech, are  among the largest centers of interest in the sport. Thus, they are crucial for its growth in the US. Indeed, the GTCC has expressed interest in finding ways to grow the game on campus.

“We may … in the coming years create a cricket intramural league. All who want to play and learn can join a team and play. It’s important to spread the sport and that’s our main mission here at Tech,” Sengupta said.

Apart from India, the defending champions, host nations Australia and New Zealand are traditional cricket powers. These teams have the home-field advantage for the World Cup, as they are familiar with their home conditions such as the wind, playing field and pitch.

Unlike many other sports, cricket is unique as the overhead and playing field conditions can determine the team compositions and consequently might even dictate the outcome of the game.

South Africa, another nation where cricket is as popular as it is in India, is also a favorite to win this World Cup. The South African team has not been able to win a World Cup title since its entry into the world competition in 1992, thus earning the unfortunate tag of “chokers.”

Having made the knockout stages in five of the six World Cups they have entered, South Africa aims to change things this time around.

This tournament features several longtime stars who are set to retire, such as Sri Lankan batting stalwarts Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene; young talents like Indian test skipper Virat Kohli; and other big names, such as Australians Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc, looking to make an impact in this year’s event.

Big shots and tumbling wickets are expected to carry on through the World Cup with match winners such as South African captain AB De Villiers, widely regarded as the finest ODI batsman currently, and speedsters like Mitchell Johnson from Australia.

If all goes accordingly, this year’s tournament might turn out to be one of the most talked about sporting spectacles of the decade, and Tech students will watch closely through final match.