American cricket flourishes in Queens

Thanks to some nifty fielding, a laser of a throw and a heads-up call from the wicketkeeper, in the first play we witnessed at the Idlewild Cricket Ground one late-spring Tuesday evening, the bowling team took a wicket after running out the batsman.

We think we described that play correctly (and invite you to direct any critiques suggesting otherwise to this reporter's Twitter handle), definitely only sort of know what we're talking about and promise not to devote the entirety of this story (best consumed by watching the video version above) to explaining all the intricacies of the cricket rule book (even if we were able to do so).

"You can hit it all over the park," Rahul Seelall, 11, said.

On a 360-degree playing field with no foul territory in the flight path of JFK Airport on a hot, lazy June evening, this group of fifth and sixth graders with the Queens United Cricket Academy demonstrated for us this 400-year-old sport they call their favorite.

"I like the discipline, the exercise," Seelall said. "And it's a fun, interactive sport with coordination with eyes and hands."

Academy director George Samuel oversees 80 kids ages 5-19, including his son Jeremy.

"Practice, determination," Jeremy said of what it takes to excel at this sport started in England.

Queens United fields its various teams against other clubs from all over the world.

"The parents used to be part of the cricketing nations," George said.

"Mostly an Indian and West Indian sport," Seelall said of the most cricket-devout countries.

"Anyone who plays cricket can play baseball," George said. "And anyone who plays baseball can play cricket."

With the sun in this very washed-up, baseball-raised batsman reporter's eyes, ill-fitting equipment and a bowler who was very clearly the Nolan Ryan of 11-year-old Queens cricketers, everyone on the field this evening remained patient and supportive following the batsman's initial swing and a miss.

"Good variations and good swing-in speed," Jeremy said.

"You have to bounce because if it comes without bouncing, it's easy for a batsman because the bat is flat," George said.

For those raised on the American version of this game, when to run and for how long also requires some coaching.

"In the rest of the world, it's one of the most main sports," Seelall said.

And for the next month, the rest of the world (plus these 11-year-olds and their families) will watch the planet's 10 best cricketing nations compete in the Cricket World Cup, which does not include the United States at this time but could in 2023 when the field expands to 16.

"If they get in," Seelall said, "I'm going to watch it every time because I want to see people from our areas go and be on television."

And carry on an American tradition we maybe forget ever even existed. Ben Franklin reportedly brought a rule book back from England in the mid-1700s and the Continental Army later played "wickets" while encamped at Valley Forge.

"George Washington used to play cricket," George said.

Now, 241 years later, we left this next generation of American cricketers making runs in their practice match, hopefully lasting closer to three hours in the game's newest format than the five days typical of test matches.