Club Cricket

August 2019 View more

Students play rock-paper-scissors to set their batting order

By Shannon Ryan

This story originally appeared in our sister publication, The Chicago Tribune, and is reprinted with permission.

After school on spring Wednesdays, about 50 boys gathered behind Granger Middle School, converting a parking lot into a cricket field, sometimes using chairs as wickets.

It’s not like cricket in Samina Pirzada’s family’s homeland of India, where the sport is played everywhere every day. But it’s an experience she wondered if her son Sameer, a fourth-generation Indian American, would ever have.

“We didn’t have a single opportunity like this,” said Pirzada, who grew up in Portage Park. “In a typical classroom, even in Chicago, I was the only Indian. They didn’t know much about cricket except it’s loved in India and that’s about it. … Now some of these kids through their parents are bringing it here.”

Sameer is one of the middle school boys who have embraced the club sport since its first season in 2013. “I always like playing it,” said Sameer, a rising seventh grader who started at age 4. “We all talk about it at school. I tell other students, ‘You should play cricket. So many kids do it. It’s the thing for our culture. You should try it and see if you like it.’ ”

Cindy Chejfec, a foreign-language teacher, noticed the interest among students when she asked them to share their hobbies.

The demographics in Aurora have shifted over the last decade. About 8 percent of Aurora residents are Asian, up from 3 percent in 2000. The Census Bureau identifies anyone from the Indian subcontinent as Asian.

As of 2017, 10.9 percent of foreign-born residents in Aurora were from India, and another 1.3 percent were born in Pakistan (another country where cricket thrives), according to

At Granger Middle School, the Asian student population has risen from 21 percent in 2014 to 31 percent in 2018, which mirrors the rise across Indian Prairie School District and is more than six times the state average.

While Granger doesn’t break down student demographics by nationality or ethnicity, Chejfec says about 20 percent of the students are of Indian descent. Last year’s cricket club of 48 students included 45 of Indian descent.

It’s not uncommon for Sameer to join his friends a couple of evenings each week for pickup cricket games in their yards. The Bolingbrook Premier League offers the only youth (under 13) cricket league in the Chicago area.

“We saw year after year there are more Indian families moving into the area,” Pirzada says. She pointed to the line of Indian restaurants along I-59 to illustrate the growth in Indian population. “In this community of Stonebridge, the Indian population just multiplied overnight.”

The students at Granger expressed interest in starting a club to play cricket, the second-most popular sport in the world behind soccer. The school realized the club, initiated by a former student, would benefit its changing population.

Initially the principal supervised, but when she left the school, the students were without anyone to oversee the program. That’s when they persuaded Chejfec, who is also a diver at the Shedd Aquarium, to help.

“They’re very persuasive,” she says with a laugh. “ ‘If you can take a risk and swim with sharks, you can take a risk and be our coach.’ What was I to say to that? OK, now what? I knew nothing about the sport. I started researching online.”

At first the club used magnets on the back of a baking sheet to keep score. It used recycling bins for wickets. Two years ago, the school earned a grant to buy another set of wickets and a portable flip scorekeeper.

Students still share bats and use a tennis ball, which is safer than a standard hard cricket ball. Parents volunteer to bring snacks, while Chejfec and another teacher volunteer as coaches and scorekeepers. Most of the players grew up playing the sport with their families, so Chejfec said all but about five each season know the rules.

The club modifies the sport so every player has a chance to bowl and bat and so the game doesn’t endure for six hours like it can at the highest level of cricket. Most years, they have enough students to run two games at once for about an hour behind the school.

Like baseball, cricket is played with a bat and ball on a large field, called a ground. Two teams of 11 players try to score the most runs. Batsmen can score a run by reaching each end of the field, or score multiple runs by hitting certain boundaries.

“A lot of my friends were doing it and they were talking about it, so I asked them what it was,” says Evan Pelligrini, a rising freshman who had no family or cultural connection to the sport before playing all three years of junior high. “They didn’t really say anything specific. As they explained it, it was like, ‘Oh, this is like more advanced baseball.’ I tried it out and it was fun.”

The club drew strong participation despite the school offering other spring after-school activities such as soccer, track, Special Olympics, STEM club coding, and band.

Like other club members, Mann Talati visits India with his family. He meshes easily with other children there through their common love of cricket.

“Usually we come down and you see people on the sidewalk playing and making their own boundaries and rules,” says Talati, a rising freshman. “I’m very excited (cricket) was in this school. Not every school will have this.”

He grew up playing with his family. His mom, Dhatri Talati, played on India’s national team in the mid-1980s and was thrilled when her son showed an affinity for the sport. She was even more pleased when she learned Granger had a club.

“They took the initiative,” she said. “I love to see it. I’m so grateful. I love that everybody has open arms and people want to try it. That’s the beautiful thing about it here, the community. … I am so happy they are keeping (the sport) alive here.”

At the end of a spring meeting, parents picked up their kids and lingered to practice and provide pointers. The students posed together for a photo and raised their index fingers while they shouted, “India!”

The Pirzadas switched Sameer from another nearby school to Granger for a variety of reasons, including academics. But a bonus was the school’s cricket club.

Samina Pirzada said: “I wanted the culture for him.” 

Photo by Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune