Cricket is a global phenomenon — in fact, it’s the second most popular sport in the world, thanks to fans and athletes in South Asia, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. But the sport has also been growing in popularity in the United States over the past few years. Nowhere is this more evident than in Kansas City. Just a decade ago, there were few cricket teams in the city. Now, Kansas City is home to several official cricket leagues featuring dozens of teams and hundreds of players, while similar leagues have spread across the Midwest. In 2017, the city opened the area’s first official cricket pitch, recognizing the growing impact of the sport. Players have been eagerly awaiting the spring 2018 cricket season, which begins tomorrow.
Such growth would not have been possible without immigrants from Pakistan and India who moved to the Midwest and brought their favorite sport with them. Many played cricket as children, and decided to pick up the sport again with their friends when they arrived in Missouri. Starting small, the teams continued to grow as more immigrants arrived. Vissu Kottapalli immigrated to the Midwest from India for school, and quickly latched on to cricket to help adjust: “You land in this new place and you see people playing cricket, you can speak the same sports language.” Cricketer Muhammad Aadil, originally from Pakistan, agrees that “it’s literally like you’re connecting with your own hometown.” Thanks to their efforts, native Missourians have also become interested in cricket, both as players and fans.
Sports have long helped connect the United States and Asia. In 2013, the NBA launched the Jr. NBA program in India, as basketball is the second most popular sport in India — after cricket, of course. The NBA then opened several basketball schools in India in 2017, sending popular American NBA stars to help train the next generation of athletes. These new programs are all part of a growing push by US sports leagues to send more teams to Asia and build new ties with the region.
Savannah Shih is a research intern at the East-West Center and a graduate student of Asian Studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.