EAST ISLIP, N.Y. — Cricket, the international game of bats and balls that isn't baseball, is enjoying a surge of popularity in America, with the debut of a national league this spring and higher demand to build "pitches" across the country.
Areas such as New York City, California's Silicon Valley, Washington, D.C., Dallas and Chicago have become cricket hotbeds, fueled by an influx of mostly South Asian immigrants, some of whom arrived as part of the high-tech boom.
In the immigrant-rich New York area, cricket has become so popular that lotteries are being held for the chance to play in pitches at some parks. New York City schools still have the only varsity cricket league in the country, but it has doubled in size in just seven years, with 30 teams now competing for the title.
A national traveling league, the American Cricket Champions League, began this spring and has 17 teams from Boston to Los Angeles vying a for a six-team playoff tournament.
For 17-year-old Akash Chowdhury, who arrived in New York City four years ago from Bangladesh and plays in the city schools league, cricket has helped smooth the transition to his new home.
His Brooklyn International High School team, outfitted with crisp, white uniforms and batting helmets like the stars they follow on cable television, often play their games in the outfields of idle baseball diamonds.
"Playing cricket in America helps me remember my back country," Chowdhury said. "But I really don't miss it like that, because I can play here."
In the past several years, communities in states from Maryland to Indiana have taken initiatives to organize youth leagues and build cricket facilities. The United States Youth Cricket Association has donated 1,500 sets of cricket equipment — bats, balls and wickets — to community youth programs around the country.
"We're hoping that as kids grow up, they will create pressure on school systems to think of cricket," said Jamie Harrison, CEO of the American Cricket Federation.
Cricket is wildly popular in former countries of the British Empire. The game is played on a field known as a pitch, but the pitcher is called a bowler. The bowler hurls the ball to the opposing team's batsman, who attempts to hit it with a flattened bat. Depending on how well the ball travels, a hit can result in one or more runs.
In the most traditional forms, a team bowls until 10 opposing batsmen are out, meaning matches can run for days. In other forms, the game is limited by the number of "overs," a series of six throws. New York City schools play a limited "over" form that lasts two to three hours.
John Aaron, executive secretary of the American Cricket Federation, grew up playing the game in his native Guyana. He compares cricket in the U.S. to where soccer was just a few decades ago.
"When soccer first started here, people said it's not going to go anywhere — American football is the thing," Aaron said. "Soccer has not replaced American football, but it has certainly taken off now, hasn't it? It's attracting international teams coming here to play. Cricket can do the same thing."