story by Josh Taylor Souza, with courtesy photos
special to The City Wire
BENTONVILLE – Over the past decade Northwest Arkansas has been more than just a hot bed for the infusing of cultures. It has been a genuine melting pot.
No area has seen more growth than Benton County, where a large Indian community has given way to a new world of tastes, trends and traditions. The influx of foreign flavor has brought an influx of foreign sports, none more revered by Hindu culture than the game of cricket.
A cousin to America's baseball, cricket is played in more than 120 countries around the world and is undoubtedly the most popular pastime throughout India.
The object of the game is to score runs by striking a thrown ball and running back and fourth between "wickets" that serve as the bases. Defenders can force out a batter by catching a batted ball in the air or by bowling the ball past the batter and through the wicket.
However, unlike baseball it is an inexpensive game because no gloves, helmets or cleats are needed and a field can be fashioned out of nearly any street corner – so long as the traffic abides.
"People in India go crazy for it," explained Sreenivas Parise, co founder of NWA Cricket. "We have a thriving Indian community in (Northwest Arkansas) and with it comes a passion for cricket."
He said the Indian population continues to expand in Benton County because of added IT jobs at Wal-Mart and partnerships with its suppliers.
“More than 90% of our players work in IT for Wal-Mart or its suppliers” Parise said.
He and a small group of cricket enthusiast began holding sandlot-style cricket matches over eight years ago and have since grown into a legitimate 17-team league.
"To watch it grow over the last few years especially has been tremendous," said Parise. "We have a nice mix of players, young and middle aged. Our talent level get deeper every year. There are so many kids who come over and want to play. It really has been fantastic to watch."
He said this past season the league was adult only, because of limited field capacity.
“We expect to have three or four more teams this next year because of the growing population,” Parise said.
The league begins each April (when the weather permits) and runs through the end of September. Matches are played (11 men to a side) every Saturday and Sunday morning at Phillips Park in Bentonville and McClure Park in Lowell. A few years ago the league added a season ending tournament, which has since partnered with Care-A-Child (a nonprofit charity) to become a major fundraiser for the Indian community.
Care a Child, which commits to various projects in Northwest Arkansas each year, began working with NWA Cricket last summer. This year’s tournament raised more than $1,300 unofficially. All 17 teams donated to the charity, which helps poverty stricken children in India.
"I knew of the league and I thought it would be a great way to raise awareness about the charity if we could get them involved," explained Dr. Lisa Das of Care a Child. "This year's turnout was excellent and we look forward to working together again in the future."
Das said the charity continues to work with other organizations throughout the year in its commitment to help the underfed, undereducated and underprivileged children of India.
Parise said the crickets are on hiatus until spring, but he’s excited and already planning the next season.