Story by Nick Nahas

The Tampa Cricket League held its end-of-season championship games on Saturday, June 25 at Evans Park in Seffner. The Royal Indians defeated the Kerala Tuskers 54-53 in the morning match for the Division 2 championship and the USF Legends defeated the Thunders 78-77 in the evening match to win the Division 1 championship.

Anirudh Jethi won MVP honors for the Legends, allowing only 14 runs while bowling four overs and scoring five runs. “It feels really nice,” said Nagesh Nayak, team captain for the USF Legends, made up of mostly University of South Florida graduates. “We watch basketball, American football and this is like the Superbowl for us.”

The league only had four teams when it started back in 2007, since then it has expanded to 34 teams consisting of two divisions and nearly 700 players that play each weekend during the season. The opening of the $630,000 Evans Park fields a year ago helped the rise in popularity of cricket in the Tampa Bay area.

The majority of the players are from Tampa Bay’s large Indian community, with some players traveling from St. Pete, Largo, Lakeland and Orlando to play cricket on the weekends. “Growing up in India this is one of the sports that people play no matter where they are, how old they are, wherever they have 10 feet of space, flat surface, they start playing cricket,” said Nehal Patel, team captain for the Thunders. “It’s great that we are able to continue that here in the U.S. and have this awesome facility to do so.”

The league has two seasons every year, each lasting about three and a half months. Division 1 has 16 teams and Division 2 has 18 teams, both are divided up based on skill level and performance. Teams are seeded in both divisions to determine the playoff bracket. One small twist is that the bottom two teams from the upper division play the top two teams from the lower division, with the winners moving up to the higher division.

Entrance fees are set at $125 per team. The money goes towards field maintenance so that the fields are not a burden to the county. The winners of the league receive $750 and the runners-up get $400, which is mostly used to purchase jerseys or equipment.

The goal is to continue expanding, adding more teams for the future. According to the Tampa Cricket League President Nitheesh Shetty, they are going to add cricket youth camps as well as a youth league this August when the next scheduled season starts. “We are a part of the big picture here and, hopefully, in a few years, there will be American people playing the game as well,” said Nayak. “That’s why we will keep this going.”

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