You can see them every Friday night under the Cromwell Field lights anytime from 6 p.m. to 11:00. Upon first glance, you guess that they’re a group of baseball players barred from playing on Dedeaux Field.
However, a second glance yields a different impression. You notice the batter wields a large, flat paddle — strikingly similar to those used in the freshmen hazing rituals in Dazed and Confused.
The pitcher, or bowler, donning the typical polo shirt, almost sprints before releasing the ball, in sharp contrast to a baseball pitcher who must always maintain contact with the mound’s rubber.
Thoroughly intrigued at this point, you approach the fence and begin to watch the match. You may realize the sport is cricket but you might be hard pressed to understand exactly what’s going on in the sport that is foreign to most American eyes.
The USC cricket club has become one of the most successful and underappreciated teams on campus these days. Ranked No. 1 in the Southern California League, the team has played in relative obscurity for the past nine years.
For most of these years, the team finished in last place. However, after an upheaval of the program last year and a new infusion of dedicated talent, the team has risen in status.
“This club was always run on leisure time. No one was doing anything about it,” said Tarun Sandhu, the club president. “So, we rebuilt it from scratch. Now, we no longer have an unorganized club.”
With a 10-2 record, USC cricket is making its case for a promotion to Division II as soon as next year.
This team represents the diversity of the USC student body. The 26 players who comprise the team hail from the United States, India, Pakistan, England and New Zealand. Graduate students make up 75 percent of the team.
Next spring, USC Cricket will be attending the American College Cricket Championship in Florida to compete against other top collegiate teams. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, widely acclaimed as the world’s best batsmen, will be in attendance to present the winning trophy, named in his honor.
When asked how he expects his team to fare at the tournament, Sandhu was confident.
“We are pretty optimistic about our chances of winning the championship,” he said. “The reason I would say that is because of the talent, dedication and, most of all, the team spirit that we bring to the game.
“Cricket is about 11 guys who give their best to the winning cause, and I feel that our team, if it continues with the good form that we have shown this past season, will be in a good position to win games and dominate the tournament,” Sandhu said.
Sandhu expects cricket to increase greatly in popularity over the next decade, especially in the United States. The International Olympic Committee is currently deliberating on whether to include cricket in the 2020 Summer Olympic games. If accepted, arguably the second most popular sport in the world — ranking only behind soccer — will likely gain more exposure in the United States.
In the meantime, the club continues to organize cricket clinics designed to instruct people how to play. Although one has already been held, the club intends to organize more before the semester ends.
Sandhu has a greater vision for the team beyond just this year, however.
“We want to take cricket to the professional level here at USC, and hopefully as and when the sport gets NCAA recognition, we aim to bring home nothing less than the championship trophy,” he said.