(This is an edited and corrected version of what appeared in our print version, where we misidentified the Tampa Premier League and its web address. We sincerely apologize for the errors.)
Nagesh Nayak is on a mission.
The Tampa Premier League (TPL) president, a K-Bar Ranch resident, has taken his power point presentation to Hillsborough and Pasco county commissioners, emailed and spoken to local politicians, shown up at town halls and, even in the midst of the heated budget battle last year, where Tampa City Council members argued over spending, Nayak stood up and asked for money to build what to him seems logical.
A cricket field in the New Tampa or Wesley Chapel area.
Sure, he says, land is sparse these days. Business development of what land is available takes precedence. But, look around New Tampa, in places like Cory Lake Isles, Arbor Greene and Tampa Palms, and you might notice Tampa Bay’s largest concentration of Indian residents.
Their game is cricket, and they would like a place to play it.
“So much of the population would be interested,” Nayak says.
A large portion of the more than 26,000 or so households in New Tampa’s 33647 zip code are of Indian and Asian descent, a number Nayak says he believes may be as high as 10 percent. Another zip code with a heavy Indian population, 33620, borders New Tampa at the University of South Florida.
In fact, the USF Cricket Club, founded by TPL chairman Satish Hanumanthu in 2007, is one of the top programs in the American College Cricket (ACC) league. The ACC, founded in 2009, has more than 70 teams, and holds its national championship in South Florida during spring break.
“USF has won 80 percent of the (collegiate) tournaments it has played in,” Hanumanthu says.
“I would safely say, without any disrespect to anyone, you could safely call us the (New England) Patriots of college cricket,” Nayak adds.
The program is so esteemed, Hanumanthu says, that the club is often the deciding factor for Indian students coming to attend college in the U.S.
“It helps them choose USF over other universities,” he says. “It’s important they have a place to play.”
Nayak feels the same way about the New Tampa (and Wesley Chapel) Indian population, which he says continues to grow and includes the Tampa Palms Cricket Club, which Nayak says has roughly 80 members.
The TPL, which has 18 teams of roughly 22-25 players each – 65 percent of whom live in New Tampa — currently plays many of its matches on a small field at Hamilton Park near Tampa International Airport, but it has no lights and can be an hour drive from this area.
“We would really like two fields with lights,” Nayak says.
Nayak sees a cricket field — which is a rectangular pitch (like a baseball infield) surrounded by a large oval field (like a baseball outfield) — offering a recreational opportunity for adults to play and teach their children the sport they grew up playing, like U.S.-born families do with baseball, basketball and football. He has already looked into attracting new players from Freedom and Wharton high schools, and has led some youth clinics teaching the sport.
He also sees a permanent field as a business opportunity, as some of the U.S.’s largest cricket tournaments can draw tens of thousands of spectators over the course of a weekend, filling hotel rooms and local businesses.
About The Game…
Cricket has many nuances but most closely resembles baseball, in that the object is to score runs by hitting a ball thrown by a pitcher, or in cricket parlance, a bowler, who hurls it on one bounce towards a wicket. There are 11 fielders, and the batsman continues to hit until he makes an out (or is dismissed).
A batted ball that makes it through the defense on the ground and to the boundary of the field is worth four runs. A ball hit over the boundary in the air, like a baseball home run, is worth six.
Championed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, the county, at a cost of $800,000, opened its first designated cricket fields at Evans Park in Mango back in 2015, and there also is a dedicated cricket field at Rodney Colson Park in Seffner.
Nayak has had discussions with Tampa’s District 7 City Councilman Luis Viera, and asked Viera and Hillsborough County District 5 Commissioner Ken Hagan at a town hall last year about making room for a cricket field at a potential K-Bar Ranch park being developed by the city and county on roughly 60 acres of land.
Hagan said it sounded like a good idea, while Viera has promised to look into it. But otherwise, Nayak says, the response from Tampa and Hillsborough County has been lukewarm.
Go North, Young Cricketers?
But, just north in Wesley Chapel, Nayak has found a friend in District 2 commissioner Mike Moore, who sees the potential in a cricket field, from a business perspective, and also a chance to please a large base of his constituents.
Moore likens the game to lacrosse, which he says has grown from being a niche sport to one of the most popular youth games in America. And, with Pasco County’s focus on capturing a big chunk of the sports tourism market, he sees it as another opportunity to potentially fill hotel rooms
Moore put Nayak and Hanumanthu in contact with RADD Sports, the Clearwater-based sports facility management & development company that is building a large indoor/outdoor sports facility, with a Residence Inn by Marriott hotel on site, in Wiregrass Ranch.
“I definitely think there is potential (for cricket) to do very well,’’ Moore says.
Until then, Moore and the county have provided a large patch of currently unused land that is designated for future development behind the soccer fields at Wesley Chapel District Park (WCDP) for Nayak and his league.
The TPL poured $20,000 into removing the dirt and replacing it with rocks and clay to create the pitch, as bowlers throw their pitches on one-bounce to the batsman and need a smooth, hard and level surface. They say the field is still a work in progress, but they are hugely appreciative of Moore’s efforts to help.
In fact, TPL will host the Wesley Chapel Invitational Championship February 3-4, at their makeshift home. The Minnesota Strykers Club, three-time MN Cricket Association Champions, will compete against the Tampa Stars and USF Bulls. Nayak says the Minnesota team will be staying at the Wesley Chapel Holiday Inn Express, showing the sports’ potential value to sports tourism. Nayak hopes it is the start of something big.
For additional information, visit Tampa-cricket.com.