Morrisville boasts a thriving cricket community for kids and pros
BY KURT DUSTERBERG | PHOTOS OF THE MORRISVILLE RAPTORS BY ROB MIRACLE
Babar Baig is accustomed to being asked how his favorite sport is played. The easiest way to start is with a quick overview, so he explains that cricket is a ball-and-bat sport. “Our bats, they’re flat,” Baig says. “And the concept is to score as many runs as you can in your inning, pretty close to what baseball does.”
In the Triangle, cricket is wildly popular in Morrisville. The town is a hub for cricket—a sport with worldwide reach,
particularly in India. “The population of Morrisville is predominantly South Asians,” says Baig, a past president of the Triangle Cricket League. “The town has been very open about this idea of supporting cricket. They have gone to great lengths to help us as much as they can. The community comes together
to make sure cricket happens here.”
For Americans, the baseball comparison is a good place to start. Cricket is played between two teams of 11. The batter tries to hit a throw from a “bowler” in an attempt to score runs. There are a variety of ways to get a batter out, but the most common is when a batter misses the ball and “bails” are knocked off “stumps.”
Triangle Cricket League has more than 3,000 participants, most of whom are from India. Rec league teams begin at age 8, with adult leagues that cater to players all the way into their 50s. “The second generation of people who are here, they’re putting their kids into the sport as well,” Baig says. “There are a few who are coming here [to Morrisville] because there’s a lot of competition in India. The sport is growing, so it’s easy to get
into the system here.”
Cricket began to take hold in Morrisville in the late 1990s when a group of adults formed an alliance with several cities in the mid-Atlantic region. In 2007, local rec leagues began to form. A decade later, the town of Morrisville couldn’t find enough fields for all the teams.
“We were renting fields to Triangle Cricket League already, and we needed a larger field [that could accommodate] truly competitive-level cricket,” says Jerry Allen, the town’s community services supervisor. “The fields they were renting from us weren’t regulation size. We had the first regulation-size public cricket field in the region when we opened Church Street Park in 2016.”
With the opening of Church Street Park, Morrisville drew increased attention. Minor League Cricket, a professional developmental league, formed in 2021 with the Morrisville Raptors among its 27 teams. The venue was chosen to host the league finals for the first two years, and will again play host in 2023.
But for all the added attention brought by the Raptors, most of the focus remains on the Triangle Cricket League. The preteen age groups are for skill development, but like young athletes in traditional American sports, cricket players can advance to travel teams from U11 to U19. The program even attracts players from other states that don’t have access to competitive programs. Geetika Kodali and her family moved from California to Cary for a better training environment in the league. Now she is the captain of the women’s U19 national team.
“Especially in the youth part, we have a lot of talented kids who go through daily training,” says Baig, who is now part of the Raptors’ management. “But we also travel around the world. Each age group will have two or three teams. We travel everywhere you can play tournaments.”
The sport has come a long way in Morrisville since the early days, when cricketers had just one place to play—the too-small field at Shiloh Park. “They do occasionally lose a few balls in the trees,” Allen says with a chuckle. “For us, it’s a way of recognizing the recreational interests of so many in our community and providing opportunities for them to enjoy a sport that they enjoyed growing up.”
Not only is Church Street Park regulation size—it also has bleachers and plenty of room for spectators to bring their own lawn chairs. In 2018, an international game between the United States and Canada drew more than 2,500. The town plans to expand seating capacity and add LED-lighted practice fields. After more than 25 years in Morrisville, cricket has put down roots in a community that might help spur more growth on the American sports landscape.
“That’s the vision, basically: to grow cricket in a way that it’s recognizable everywhere,” Baig says. “There are programs that are going to start introducing cricket in schools. It’s an uphill battle, but absolutely I’m very hopeful that in the next five years or so we will get there.”.
Raptors Attract the Best of the Sport
The Raptors compete at a level that is near the pinnacle of professional cricket. Minor League Cricket includes professional franchises across the country. The Raptors play in a five-team division with the Atlanta Fire, Atlanta Lightning, Fort Lauderdale Lions and the Orlando Galaxy. In 2022, the Raptors finished 9–4–1 and advanced to the quarterfinals.
Minor League Cricket is the second-highest level of play in the U.S.; one rung under Major League Cricket, a six-team league that is playing its inaugural season in the summer of 2023. The minor league season runs June–September, with games played on weekends. Players can earn $5,000–$10,000 per season.
Two of the Raptors players, captain Dane Piedt and Jacobus Pienaar, moved from South Africa to play for Morrisville. Lahiru Milantha moved from Sri Lanka to join the team. Follow the Raptors on Instagram at instagram.com/morrisvilleraptors.