Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Cricket new addition to Dupree Park

Leader sports editor

Cricket is coming to Jacksonville’s Dupree Park, and very soon. The pitch is built, the bowling carpet is down, the field is lined and teams are already in place. There are some minor cosmetics still left to complete before the first match can be played, but it could take place as soon as Saturday.

Andy Patel, owner of the Jacksonville and North Little Rock Best Western Hotels, and Jacksonville Advertising and Promotions Commission member, began lobbying Jacksonville City Council to build a cricket pitch at Dupree Park last fall. Patel, Shash Goyal, Sam Pothi and Andrew Desai spearheaded the drive to get a cricket field going in Arkansas, due largely to growing interest in the sport and the growing need to provide more places to play.

“We have so many people wanting to join our league, and with only three places in central Arkansas to play, it limits the amount of people that can be on a team and actually get to play,” Goyal said. With more fields, there is room for more teams and therefore more players.

Pothi, who is president of the Central Arkansas Indian Cricket Association, started the CAICA in 1989 in Rose City. It disappeared when he moved to Dallas in 1991, but he gotit going again when he moved back in 1994. Since then, the association has added two fields in Burns Park in 2001.

The Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department agreed to build the field in the southeast corner of Dupree Park, which is within the flood zone. Patel and his group wanted to share the soccer fields, but agreed to the compromise since Cricket is primarily played in the summer when flooding is rare.

“It was a good compromise,” Patel said. “The parks and rec department, specifically Kristen Kennon, suggested that part of the park since the soccer fields need time to recover. Kristen and Kevin House have been very helpful and we very much appreciate the time and effort they put into helping us get this done.”

There was a limit to how much parks and rec could help. The city built the field’s pitch, which is a raised surface where the bowler, or pitcher in baseball terms, bowls to the batsman. But there is also a carpeted concrete surface on top of the pitch and there was no money left to pour concrete or install a carpet.

“Kristen suggested we see Mayor Fletcher because she said she had no more money to allocate to this project,” Patel said. “Mayor Fletcher suggested we talk to A&P because the sport will bring many teams in when we hold tournaments.”

The CAICA hosts a tournament every year on Labor Day weekend which brings between eight and 10 teams from Arkansas and surrounding states.

“We thought it was another way to promote Jacksonville and bring out-of-state money to this community,” Patel said. “It also would bring more cultural diversity and have a positive impact in that way.”

The A&P agreed and put up the money for the concrete and carpet. The city has spent approximately $4,500, with about $1,000 for the turf and $3,500 for concrete and carpet. There is still a small ledge where the pitch is not level with the carpet and the slope down into the field needs to be smoother. There should also be thick grass growing up to the bowling lane, but the field would be playable with the repaired ledge. If that is taken care of this week, Patel says Dupree Park will host its first game on Saturday.

“The team is just waiting for the call,” Patel said. “If the city can get it in playing condition by Thursday, we will play on Saturday.”

The CAICA, which is the home organization for the Little Rock Cricket Club’s Blue and Red teams, is a certified member of the United States Cricket Association, which is a permanent member of the International Cricket Council. That means CAICA players are eligible for national teams and international competitions. Goyal says that cricket will be an Olympic sport in 2016.

“We are officially recognized so if someone from our organization is playing very well, the USCA could come look at him and possibly select him,” Goyal said.

With the addition to the new field in Jacksonville, the CAICA is looking to add a third team, which would be called LRCC-Yellow.

There are four other teams in Little Rock and one in Jonesboro that rounds out the cricket teams in Arkansas. Most of them have formed in the last four or five years.

“This sport is growing so rapidly,” Pothi said. “Five years ago we were going to places like Tulsa, Monroe, Wichita, Hattiesburg, all over just to play. Now there are six teams in central Arkansas, one in Jonesboro and 10 in Memphis. Five years ago Memphis only had one.”

Cricket is growing nationwide as well. There have been international competitions in Miami the last two years. There are now international cricket grounds in Dallas, New Jersey, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City.