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Cricket comes to Boise with space granted by city

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When Girish Cherussery moved to Las Vegas from southern India for college, he thought about hanging up his bat.

Only four guys in town knew their way across a pitch.

"I said, 'OK, my cricketing days are done, I've got to find another sport,'" Cherussery said.

But by the time he left Las Vegas for Boise in 2004, there were four competitive cricket teams playing on par with the conglomerate of Commonwealth cricketers in Los Angeles.

The scene in Boise was far behind Vegas, but not all bad. About 20 people were interested in playing. And many of them already had some street games going. Well, if you consider the parking lots and softball fields at Micron and Hewlett Packard "street."

"It's more of a mental toughness than a physical game like American football," Cherussery said.

That mental toughness has paid off. After about a year of searching for a permanent cricket ground in Boise, the city Parks and Recreation Department has signed off on a primo field at Ann Morrison Park for the team.

"They should be playing this spring or summer," said Parks Superintendent Tom Governale.

The speed of approval for their dream field has left team members shocked.

"I never thought this was going to be this easy," Cherussery said.

Greg Moran knew very little about the sport a year ago. Moran is the team's token "American guy" for now, according to golf-whispered YouTube video play-by-play commentary on his maiden tournament play in Salt Lake City.

Moran remembers watching a bit of cricket as a kid.

"Man, they had cricket highlights on Wide World of Sports on Sunday mornings," he recalled. "Man, it was cool."

Now, $500 in equipment later, not including the India national cricket team hat he bought on eBay, Moran is reliving the thrill of victory. Not only did he help the Boise team beat the Las Vegas and Salt Lake City teams in last year's Intermountain Regional Cricket Tournament, but he also helped the Boise team win a field of its own from a skeptical city.

"I think initially that they thought we were going to put in a concrete pitch in the middle of a soccer field," Moran told me.

Last year the team played on the softball field at Timberline High School. But as soon as they started talking about putting in a pitch—the hard 66-by-10-foot surface on which a cricket ball is hurled toward the batter—a new fence went up blocking their field.

Audiences with the proper city officials proved elusive for months. Players were told there was no space. So they found their own with the help of satellite images.

Then they were told that the huge Simplot Sports Complex is off limits for anything but soccer and Little League baseball games, despite being maintained by the city and, apparently, available on Sunday mornings.

So despite emerging victorious at last year's Salt Lake City tournament, the team was not able to invite the losing clubs to Boise because of the lack of a proper field. Understandably, team members began to get discouraged.

"They keep complaining there's not enough space," Moran said in an earlier interview. "A lot of space here is not being used on a regular basis."

But just a few weeks later, Moran and a half-dozen team members managed to get in to Parks and Recreation Director Jim Hall's office for a sit-down meeting.

They came armed with a 16-page proposal, complete with Google Earth screenshots of other cities' pitches and a plan to explain the game better.

It worked.

"Initially we didn't know if we were going to have a enough space for cricket," Governale said. Parks and Recreation officials were worried about the amount of space and especially about the pitch, which they envisioned as a concrete slab in the middle of a soccer field.

The cricketers explained that ideally the pitch would be between two fields and that it would be covered in artificial turf.

Within two weeks of the meeting, all of the parties agreed to a spot between two fields at Ann Morrison Park, and the Sunday morning adult soccer program was shuffled a bit to provide some field time.

Now, the Boise team will be able to host cricket tournaments. Teams from Colorado, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City have already expressed interest, and active cricket clubs in Seattle may make the trip as well.

Part of the club's proposal to the city is to teach cricket and spread the game as well. In Africa, Asia, Australia and the Caribbean—anywhere the British Empire left its mark—cricket is huge. A Jamaican businessman in Boise donated the local team's uniforms. The team is mostly Indian and Pakistani, but the occasional Australian will join in.

"All we want to do is bring a sport that's not known in the community," said Pratap Murali, another Indian player in the Boise cricket club.

Moran and Cherussery met one Sunday to watch a game on DVD so they could run a hapless reporter through the rules of the game. It took a while to figure out just what the players were doing. The heavy willow bat made a pretty cool cracking sound, and it became easier to understand it when the score was, like, 70 to 0. England seemed to be slamming the Indian team. But the Indians had not even gotten a turn to bat.

That's how cricket goes. If you bat first you get as many runs as you can manage, and that's your score. Then the other team has a few hours to beat you.

In the end, as shadows covered half of London's Oval Cricket Grounds and the second DVD was nearing capacity, India pulled off a thrilling last-minute victory. Final score: 317 to 316.

Oh, and every time the ball is hit into the stands, fans throw it back so they can keep playing. They don't sue each other over who caught it. Very cultured. But they do run with their bats, which seems a bit rude.

The Boise team will raise the money to build the pitch, and the city will make sure it is up to code. Cherussery is looking forward to the built-in fan base in Ann Morrison Park: river tubers.

"It gives us an awesome place to play, and it also puts it in a spot where there will be a lot of people," he said. "That's promoting the game right there."

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