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From a parking lot to a pitch - NEPA Cricket Club has a new home

Anas Ansari hits the ball.
Anas Ansari hits the ball.

On a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon, at a former softball field in Forty Fort, Navid Ahmad waits for his turn at bat.

He steps up, taking his place in front of the three poles of the wooden wicket and holding the wide cricket bat below his waist, waiting for the pitch.

The bowler standing across from him throws the ball, it bounces once, and Ahmad swings. It flies over the field and…a fielder catches it. Muhammad is out and doesn’t have a chance to score any runs.

Ahmad is president of the NEPA Cricket Club. That swing was one of his first at the club’s new, permanent pitch in Forty Fort. It’s still a work in progress, but he says it’s a far cry from where the club started.

“Around 2008 we started this club with like, three or four guys,” he said. “We were playing in Mountain Top in the parking area of Rice Elementary School.”

Since the Rice Elementary days, the club’s numbers have grown to nearly 100 members. Ahmad says they’ve tried using a field in Nuangola and a baseball field at the Kingston Recreation Center, but neither of them could serve as a true pitch.

“In a cricket field, you need the center pitching so you can see the guy who’s bowling, and you need not an artificial mat, but an actual hard surface where the ball can bounce,” he said. “In baseball, the ball comes straight at you…in cricket, the ball needs to bounce so that it can move left or right.”

Sulman Chohan pitches the ball while playing cricket at the Forty Fort park.
Sulman Chohan pitches the ball while playing cricket at a park in Forty Fort.

At the Forty Fort Sports Complex, the club has a mat laid out on what was left of a softball diamond. That’s where the batter and bowler stand on opposite ends.

If the batter misses even once and lets the ball hit the three wooden poles that make up the wicket behind them, they are out. But, if they hit it, they have a chance to score unless one of the fielders is able to catch it.

“When you hit the ball and it goes out of the field…in cricket we call it six runs,” Ahmad explained. “If it bounces and then crosses (out of) the area, then it’s four runs.”

Even if the ball stays in bounds, a batter is still buying time for a runner to score by running back and forth along the pitching mound.

When the cricket club approached Forty Fort, Mayor Brian Thomas said they were more than willing to help convert a less-used field at the sports complex into a suitable pitch.

“By the end of the summer or early part of fall, we should have it all done and ready to go,” he said.

The club held a grand opening event in May with food, a free clinic and family activities - along with a game of cricket, using the mat for the pitching mound and cones for the boundaries.

“We pitched the idea…about introducing a new sport, telling people that we want this to be a long term relationship,” Ahmad said. “This is about introducing something new to the community and being available to teach the community what the sport is.”

Thomas said he was especially on board for the community aspect. The borough now provides the field space and the club will fundraise to pay for the borough to install the pitching mound and make other improvements.

“There was really very little hesitation…it just makes good sense,” he said. “I personally love it because I think it…brings different cultures together and brings everybody together. That’s what makes it fun.”

Fatima Ashraf is the chair of the Women’s Committee, a part of the Cricket Club. They cook and serve food on every game day, but they’ve also started community efforts like a food drive and they’re planning to put together more health clinics.

“The idea is to serve the community and future generations,” she said. “We started doing the food drive and we are delivering the boxes for donation to the Victims Resource Center.”

Farah Rashid and Sadaf Ansari prepare lunch at the Forty Fort park where cricket is played.
Farah Rashid and Sadaf Ansari prepare lunch at the Forty Fort park where cricket is played.

Ashraf expects their community efforts will grow now that the club has a permanent home.

“We can do more frequent events, we can gather the community and we can get the youth from all over,” she said. “We have people from India, Bangladesh, from Arabic (countries), so many countries that play together.”

Ahmad grew up playing cricket in Pakistan. He moved to Northeastern Pennsylvania 25 years ago, and he says playing cricket here has helped him to feel at home in his community.

He is looking forward to recruiting more members. The club hopes to offer camps for children and visit schools now that they have a consistent place to play.

“This is the one sport that we love, growing up this was the sport we loved playing, so it’s a big deal for us to have this not just being played but being played on an actual cricket field,” he said. “That’s an extremely proud moment for everyone that has put in the effort to get this.”

Sarah Scinto is the local host of Morning Edition on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.

You can email Sarah at sarahscinto@wvia.org