Down the Wicket

Members of Grads United watch as their team bats against Company during their Friday match. Beck Diefenbach

Members of Grads United watch as their team bats against Company during their Friday match. Beck Diefenbach

By Dan Hollander

Every warm weekend, a little piece of Central Illinois is transported across the world, complete with bats, balls and wickets.

The Illini Cricket Board holds a tournament each semester, bringing the more than 700-year-old sport from the Commonwealth countries to the University.

While cricket itself is not well known by the average American student, visiting students have a passion for it.

Josh Cantone, graduate student from Australia, plays for Company, one of the seven teams competing in this year’s tournament. He said he was excited to see cricket so far from his home.

“It really surprised me how serious everyone takes the game here,” Cantone said. “There is a surprisingly high standard of cricket being played here in Central Illinois.”

Originating in England, cricket is a bat-and-ball sport that has been played in some form since the 13th century. It is played on an oval-shaped field between two teams of 11 players, who compete to score the most runs.

In the center of the field lies a pitch, 66 feet long, with a set of three sticks at either end, known as the wickets. The bowler, which is most akin to a baseball pitcher, bowls a hard, fist-sized ball to the batter at the other end of the pitch who attempts to hit the ball.

Just like in baseball, if the batsman makes contact with the ball and does not get out, then they may run up and down the pitch to score runs. Batsmen may get out by being caught, bowled (if a bowled ball hits the wicket) or run out.

If the batsman hits the ball over the boundary, it counts as six runs. If the ball bounces or rolls to the boundary, it counts as four runs.

Typically, cricket is played in two forms, test cricket, which may last up to five days, and one-day cricket — which involves one inning (10 outs) per side and lasts around eight hours.

Here in Champaign, a shortened version of the game is played, and each game takes about two hours. This provides students an opportunity to play competitive cricket and to unwind on the weekends.

More than 85 percent of the members are international students from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa and England. For Cantone, cricket is more than a game, it is a way to meet other international students.

“In Australia you’d always be playing against Australians,” he said. “Here, people of different cultures get to compete both along side and against one another.”

This semester’s tournament is ending on Sunday with both the semifinal and final matches. The first semifinal begins at 11:30 a.m. on the South Quad. Cantone said he would love to see a crowd getting into the matches.

“It’d be great to publicize the game more, and even to get more American students to come out and watch,” he said.