Religious, cultural diversity rules Utah cricket league as championship game nears

Published: Friday, Sept. 20 2013 5:59 p.m. MDT

Pratap Murali of the Boise Cricket Club gets ready to flick over the midwicket against the Utah Lions in the Intermountain Cricket League's Memorial Day Tournament in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 26, 2012.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Players from two teams, four nations, six primary languages and countless ethnicities will be united Sunday by a sport and the chance for a title.

The sport is cricket, and the title is the Intermountain Cricket League championship. After 40 matches over five months, the Vincent Hawks and Layton Bashers will face off in one of the state's biggest cricket matches ever.

The league organizer and captain of the 27-year-old Salt Lake County Sabrecats can attest to that.

"Honestly, this was my ultimate dream come true," Nasir Khan said. "It's the first time we've had a league the whole season, and now we have a championship game."

His team is the most diverse, drawing players from Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America and the Caribbean. Khan's vision of a summer cricket league has required a long journey with many starts and stops. In its first year, the ICL was slowed by several rain-outs, resulting in an unbalanced schedule and a disputed title.

But this year has been a success with all five teams (a sixth planning to join in 2014) playing the entire season — even after one club was suspended for a short time after a dispute.

"It's not easy when we have 55 different personalities," Khan said. "Even the ones that brought up complaints — now we are the best of friends. This is what cricket is all about."

And now just a day after BYU and Utah face off in a match laced with cultural and religious undertones, the Hawks' and Bashers' rosters feature a myriad of players from different backgrounds.

"(Our) players are from north and south and west of India," Bashers' co-captian Rajeev Soorma said of the 10-year-old club, which also includes players from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. "(We) speak five different languages. Hindi and English are the common languages we all understand."

The Bashers, who live and work in Davis County, also have a mix of religious backgrounds — Hindi, Muslim and Christian.

The Hawks, who are mostly University of Utah students or alumni, all hail from India but are a mix of many religious, cultural and geographical backgrounds.

"The religions and ethnicities are quite diverse in cricket," Hawks captain Krishna Chaitanya said. "This game is played across the globe, only recently gaining some attraction in America."

Chaitanya's Hawks topped the ICL standings for the entire season but finished just one point ahead of the second-place Bashers and two points ahead of Khan's Sabrecats. The league started in April, playing games on Sundays in Layton's Woodward Park and Salt Lake City's 11th Avenue Park, where this Sunday's title match will start at 10:30 a.m. The 25-over match will last about five hours.

Vincent (6-2) split the season series with Layton (5-2-1), which made a late-season run to sneak into the title game. In their last meeting Aug. 18, the Bashers gave the Hawks their first loss of 2013 as Layton went on a three-game winning streak to end the season.

"I think it's the right balance of dependable bowling and some explosive batting," Soorma cited as reasons for his team's winning run. "We have a better chemistry as a team. Everyone seems to understand their role as an individual and as a team member better now after a few good games under our belt."

The Hawks' balance was also the key to their success.

"Our team has the right balance of bowling, batting and fielding," Chaitanya said. "Everybody puts team ahead of themselves, and, therefore, the results are in our favor."

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