Phoenix could become the next cricket hot spot
Cricket — a bat-and-ball game that's older than baseball — is exploding in popularity across the U.S., and Phoenix is just beginning to tap into the sport's potential.
Why it matters: Phoenix could become a "cricket factory," because of its 300 days of sunshine — but it needs more facilities to thrive, players tell us.
Driving the news: The Phoenix City Council is expected to allocate $250,000 for up to three cricket pitches in this year's budget.
That will be the first city investment in the sport, although players have been lobbying for facilities for a decade.
- Currently, there's only one turf cricket field in Phoenix at Chaparral Elementary School, and it was funded privately.
Other big cities, including San Jose, Seattle and Washington, have dozens of pitches and are planning stadiums for their Major League Cricket (MLC) teams.
- MLC's inaugural season begins in July at a newly constructed stadium outside Dallas.
Zoom in: Phoenix's lack of cricket facilities is not for lack of local interest. The Cricket Association of Phoenix (CAP) organizes about 1,000 matches a year.
- It currently operates 42 teams and has enough players — but not enough fields — for more, president Santohsh Bhugatha tells us.
- Most of the games are of a "soft ball" variety that can be played on baseball fields at city parks.
- The "hard ball" variation — which is what professional cricketers play — can be played only on turf pitches, which limits how many pro-style matches CAP can host.
The intrigue: Bhugatha says he met with one of the international cricket governing bodies in India to suggest professional cricket expansion in Arizona. He was told Phoenix needs more turf fields to move beyond its "amateur" reputation.
- Phoenix investment will be a first step toward propelling Arizona cricket into the big leagues, Bhugatha tells us.
What we're watching: Facilities aren't Phoenix's only challenge. Cricket also needs more diversity here, he says.
- Currently, most players are male and over 30.
- Bhugatha is working with the Arizona Youth Cricket Association to make the sport more accessible and affordable to young people.
- He's also on a mission to recruit women for an all-female league. There are just two female players in Phoenix now, he says.
What they're saying: "We need diversity and inclusivity for the sport to survive," Bhugatha says.
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