For many who play it, the sport is ingrained in their culture — so much so that even in a country where the sport is virtually unknown, they find the time and the space to enjoy it.
"I love cricket," Ellicott City resident Arun Bangalor said. "It's in my blood."
Bangalor is one of 288 people participating in Howard County Recreation and Park's new adult cricket league.
Cricket, a sport similar to baseball, originated in England and is now the second most popular sport in the world, according to mostpopularsports.net, behind only soccer.
Like baseball, it involves batting and fielding. But in cricket, pitching is called bowling and instead of four bases there are two wickets, spread 22 yards apart on the pitch, the central strip of the field.
The batsman, as he is called in cricket, can score by hitting the ball and running to the opposite wicket. However, there are other ways to score and other rules that differentiate the sport from baseball.
The Howard County cricket league was formed this past spring after recreation and park officials realized a significant number of people were using the baseball fields at Meadowbrook Park in Ellicott City and other unoccupied fields to play the sport.
"Anywhere that we can find an open spot, we would go and play," said Ellicott City resident Murali Padamanaban, who worked with Howard County recreation supervisor Derek Ludlow to help form the official league.
Venky Natarajan, another of the league's founders, said he and some other players have been holding cricket games in Howard County for seven years. Since they started, he said, the number of players has grown, simply from word of mouth.
"Fun meets passion," is how Natarajan describes the game. But he admits competitiveness is playing more of role as the league grows, especially now that it's official.
"The competition is growing year by year," Natarajan said, and so, too, is the talent level, he added.
The first season of the league, held this past spring, had 18 teams. Ludlow said the waiting list included at least 12 teams worth of people — each team has a roster of 24 people.
Though the interest didn't dwindle for the fall season, which will wrap up at the end of this month, Ludlow did not have as much field space so he could only authorize 12 teams to play in the league.
"I could probably pull in the area 35, 40 teams," Ludlow said.
To help with the space issue, the county is modifying two multi-purpose fields at Schooley Mill Park, in Highland, to accommodate a regulation-size cricket field.
The baseball fields where the league currently plays are about half a regulation-size field, Padamanaban said, so they had to modify the game to work with the space.
He said the players are looking forward to the having a cricket field at Schooley Mill.
"It's a privilege to have a ground in a country where this is not an official sport," he said.
Renovations, which involve re-grading the existing fields to a single level, will begin this month and are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The cricket field, which will overlay the two multi-purpose fields with the pitch in the open space between them, will allow the league to double its team capacity starting next spring. Registration for the 2013 spring season, scheduled to run from April to July, begins in November
Another founding player of the league, Ellicott City resident Vijay Easwaran, said the fun of the game and league helps him relax on the weekends. Like the majority of players in the league, Easwaran is Indian. The sport is extremely popular in that Asian country.
"We have a very big Indian community here (in Howard County)," Easwaran said.
John Dondapati, of Baltimore, was born in India, and he grew up playing cricket.
"In India, you either watch or you play cricket," he said. "It's like a religion for us."
He said the sport of cricket has three formats: The longest version of the game lasts about five days, a shorter format lasts eight to nine hours and the shortest, the one most often played in leagues across the United States, lasts three hours.
"It's very entertaining, a lot of action," Dondapati said.
Bangalor said he's been playing cricket for 20-some years and has a 12-year-old son who he's training to play.
Ludlow said the county is considering forming a youth cricket league.
"There's plenty of kids around this area who would want to play," Bangalor said.
Many of the players in the league live in Howard County, but some come from neighboring jurisdictions.
Prashanth Reddy, a doctoral student at Towson University, currently travels to Howard County every weekend for games from New York City, where he has an internship. He was introduced to the league in 2009 by Bangalor and has been playing in Howard County ever since.
"I like all of my friends, my teammates," he said.
Reddy, who played on the cricket team at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, was named the top bowler (a position equivalent to the pitcher in baseball) in the spring league.
Though many of the players in the league are people who grew up watching or playing the sport as a part of their culture, they welcome others to get involved.
"If you've been involved with baseball, it's a little bit modified but you can pick it up," Natarajan said. "We encourage people to join, come and play, have fun."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun