22 female players ran, hit, and threw on the grass at the inaugural 2021 USA Cricket Women’s Regional Championships. The hot sun shone down on this momentous occasion for women’s cricket in the United States, while Aparna Bhadriraju enjoyed the refreshing experience of playing alongside her daughter for their nation.
It was something she never expected.
Bhadriraju expressed, “It felt like a dream come true. Honestly, it’s the most amazing feeling I’ve ever experienced. Everyone was thinking, ‘wow, a mother and daughter playing on the same team.'”
During her time in India, Bhadriraju’s biggest passion was playing cricket. However, the only place for women to play at the time was a local street. Now living in America, Bhadriraju’s daughter Bhumika is motivated by her mother’s past to continue playing the sport.
“My daughter Bhumika expressed, ‘It seemed like I was accomplishing something that she couldn’t do herself.’ That’s what struck a chord with me.”
The Bhadrirajus make up a small portion of the growing popularity of cricket, a sport that can be compared to baseball. However, cricket is a more intricate and sophisticated version of many other field sports, consisting of 42 rules. According to USA Cricket, over 200,000 people in America engage in cricket. Morrisville, North Carolina is home to one of the most vibrant cricket communities.
In 2017, Bhadriraju and Bhumika teamed up to play together. They were later joined by several other mothers and daughters who were eager to try out some women’s practices, thanks to the Triangle Cricket League’s promotion.
Mitali Patwardhan, one of the pioneering female players in the women’s Triangle Cricket League (W-TCL), expressed her surprise at the league’s rapid growth. She shared that they have been playing for five years now and there is already a significant number of women interested in joining, particularly in their area, resulting in the formation of multiple teams.
However, the growth is not absolute. Currently, W-TCL has a registration of 73 women players, while the men’s league, established in 2010, has a much larger registration of 3,800 players.
The suggestion from Rohaan Gosala, a cricket coach and analyst, led to the establishment of women’s cricket in the region.
In 2017, Gosala expressed the importance of beginning women’s cricket in order to pave the way for future female players. He believed that by slowly introducing the sport to girls, they would eventually begin playing and that after four or five years, the impact of this effort could be seen. This statement was made a year prior to the formation of the W-TCL division.
In the year of 2017, USA Cricket brought new energy to the American cricket world by claiming victory in the “Auty Cup,” a men’s cricket tournament between the United States and Canada, after 26 years.
The enthusiasm was transferred into the creation of W-TCL. Despite this, Gosala and W-TCL coordinator Rupali Ullal stress that the progress, in the past and future, relies on the girls and women who have a strong desire to participate.
Ullal stated that her main focus is creating opportunities for others. She emphasized that anyone who wants to participate will have the chance to do so.
The surge is driven by a small group of mothers and daughters.
Three out of the initial five players from the Under 19 (U-19) team are currently enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These players are Patwardhan, Bhariraju, and Geetika Kudali, who is not only the captain of the USA Cricket U-19 team but also a member of Team USA.
Most of the female U-19 players grew up watching cricket on TV in their living rooms in both India and America.
The older members of W-TCL, including mothers, spent their youth playing cricket in the streets. They were limited by social obstacles that prevented them from competing outside of their immediate community.
During the 90s, cricket was not a common sport, but now the U-19 women are leading the way for American women’s cricket. Many senior players in the TCL recall this shift.
Supriya Desai, a senior player for W-TCL, stated that upon arriving, there was a lack of cricket in any form. This included both men’s and women’s cricket.
Desai relocated to Cary, North Carolina in the 1990s with the goal of uniting fellow immigrants from Karnataka, India. Prior to the establishment of the North Carolina league, Desai and other Indian immigrants would gather at picnics to play and nurture the growth of the sport in the state.
When five initial TCL females started playing cricket as a group, they were approximately 13 or 14 years old. Due to a lack of female players, they joined boys’ teams instead of forming their own women’s cricket team.
“Imagine you have been given a responsibility, like a critical role in a game. There is already an expectation that you will make mistakes,” explained Patwardhan. “If you are given one opportunity and don’t perform well, it may be a while before you are given another chance.”
The women had to start from the beginning, playing against boys who had been playing since they were 8 years old, with tougher cricket balls made of leather instead of softer ones.
The experience was disheartening, nearly causing Patwardhan to give up cricket entirely.
Patwardhan explained that her initial hesitation to participate was due to being the only female among a group of male participants. However, upon the formation of the Women’s League, she realized that she was not alone and became excited about the prospect of joining.
The existence of women’s cricket teams in the United States, both at recreational and national levels, signifies a positive change in the social aspect of the sport. This change would not only benefit the female players and their supporters, but also everyone in the cricket community who wishes to see the sport gain more recognition.
According to cricket expert Nate Hays, the development of cricket in the country will be limited unless more women participate. This is particularly important because the sport needs at least 10,000 female players to meet NCAA standards.
Hays stated that this highlights the greater difficulty that women face in playing cricket compared to men. Women are not given equal opportunities or schedules, nor are they given the same level of importance, particularly in the USA.
Excluding women’s cricket, the United States holds a distinct position on the global rankings list. According to Hays, USA Cricket typically either excels in all competitions or suffers complete defeat. Very few teams are in a similar situation as USA Cricket, as the program is relatively new.
Before 2021, there was no representation of women in the national cricket arena. However, there is now a national team for women and a team for under-19 players.
A recent article by GeekWire reported that USA Cricket received a $120 million investment in May 2022. It has also been announced that cricket will be included in the 2028 summer Olympics in Los Angeles for both men and women’s teams.
Approximately one billion individuals worldwide engage in playing, watching, and supporting the sport of cricket in various capacities.
Gosala shared, “The reason I am passionate about this is because I have always believed that my mother was not given the chance or resources to excel in cricket during her time in India. This is something not many people are aware of.”