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Clovis cricket building solid reputation

Team has won New Mexico league title in two of last three seasons.

 

Courtesy photo

The Clovis Cricket Club has won the New Mexico Cricket League in two of the last three seasons.

CLOVIS — When thinking of cricket, most Americans likely think of a jolly good game played across the pond, maybe after a spot of tea and some crumpets.

It is indeed a sport often associated with the British, but there are teams playing it all over the world, including right here in Clovis at Bob Spencer Park. There’s Clovis Cricket Club, a team that has won the New Mexico Cricket League championship two of the past three seasons (including this year), and the Clovis Spartans — comprised of most of the same players along with some from Albuquerque and Florida — who were runners-up at the Bhakta Samaj Cricket Tournament in Dallas over Memorial Day weekend.

Cricket is a game with known origins dating back to the late 16th century. It’s similar to baseball, but pitchers are called bowlers, bowls (pitches) are deliveries that can be categorized as legal or illegal, and bases are wickets in the form of three wooden stumps. The term wicket can also be used to describe the pitch (cricket field) itself, or an out in an inning.

So, a bowl is a pitch, a pitch is the field. But don’t worry, it’s not as confusing as it may seem.

Clovis’ cricket team only goes back to 2016, founded by Darmesh Bhakta, who owns the Comfort Inn and Suites and Super 8 franchises in Clovis. Bhakta, a college cricket player in India, wanted to bring the sport to his adopted home town — and grow it here, too.

“There was nothing around our area with somebody playing those kinds of sports,” Bhakta said. “In Clovis there was no one playing it, so I started playing with a tennis ball.”

Bhakta found other people interested in playing, applied to the city of Clovis for the field, and Clovis Cricket Club was born.

“I think he is the father of cricket in Clovis, New Mexico,” Dhawal ‘Danny’ Jariwala, a bowler for Clovis Cricket Club and the owner of Days Inn and Suites in Clovis, said of Bhakta. “He is the one that got the field and laid the strip. ... Without him, the field would not have been possible. If the field had not been possible, there would’ve been no Clovis team.”

There was so much interest in eastern New Mexico and the Panhandle that the New Mexico Cricket League was eventually formed, including eight total teams — Clovis, Santa Rosa and two teams from Albuquerque representing New Mexico; and Texas teams from Midland, Lubbock, Amarillo and El Paso.

Clovis Cricket Club won the first NMCL championship in 2016, with the playoffs held right here in Clovis. Last year’s playoffs were held in Albuquerque, with Clovis Cricket Club reaching the semifinals. This year in Amarillo, Clovis reclaimed the league title.

The slightly revamped Clovis Spartans team headed to Dallas for the holiday weekend tournament, which included 28 teams divided into A, B and C divisions. Jariwala described the A division as “very professional,” and says the B division was semi-pro and the C division consisted of those mostly playing for fun. The A and C divisions included eight teams, the B division 12 teams.

The Clovis Spartans played seven tournament games, including the championship — in a three-day span. “No other team in the entire tournament played that many games,” Jariwala said, “because there was a different qualification process that we had to go through. We had to qualify, like a wild card team.”

And they went all the way to the final, coming up just five runs short. “A wild card team making the Super Bowl,” Jariwala said. “As good as that.”

The Spartans boasted three of the tournament’s Most Valuable Player awards. Clovis resident Bhavesh Bhakta was named overall MVP and most valuable batsman. Team member Dhaval Patel from Florida was most valuable bowler.

It was the second consecutive year the Bhakta Samaj Cricket Tournament was held in Dallas. Los Angeles hosted in 2016.

Jariwala said that Feb. 21-24 of next year, there will be an additional tournament in Panama City, Panama. “We will be going outside the U.S. representing Clovis,” he said, proudly.

The game — so popular in many countries outside the U.S., yet so unfamiliar to most Americans — has several intriguing facets other than those already listed above. The field layout is called the pitch, which is a concrete strip with carpet. There are 11 players on each team. An over is the delivery of six straight legal balls by one bowler. The maximum amount of runs that can be scored on a legal delivery is six; on an illegal delivery — a bowl above the waist — a maximum of seven runs can score. There is a maximum of 20 overs per half-inning, meaning there can be 120 legal deliveries per half-inning. In one recent half-inning, Clovis scored 269 runs. “That’s a lot,” Jariwala said.

In what Jariwala calls the “shorter version” of cricket, each half-inning takes 90 minutes. That’s an inning length ESPN Radio and Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay would call “unmanageable”, but they do take breaks in between and only two total innings are played, with 10 outs (wickets) each.

Jariwala only recently started to get serious about cricket. “I knew about the sport since back in India, but never played it at this competitive level until I moved here in Clovis,” said Jariwala, who has lived here since 2014. “(Cricket) is amazing ... I really love it. It really brings out the best in us.”

While Jariwala is a bowler, Darmesh Bhakta is an all-rounder, which as the name would seem to indicate is someone who specializes in both bowling and batting. Jariwala says playing the game takes a few prerequisites.

“It is a very strategic game,” he said. “Cricket is a combination of other sports. You have to have the stamina that is normally used in basketball. You have to have the physicality to hit the ball out. And a lot goes into it like golf because you’re always trying to get better.

“I feel personally there is a fourth important thing in the game — somebody motivating their team. Their should be someone who can motivate.”

Overall, it’s a game as challenging as any Americans are used to playing or watching on television. And it’s growing in popularity. Bhakta says the NMCL is expected to add two new teams — a Las Cruces team and a second Lubbock squad — next season.

Even in Clovis, the sport’s popularity is on the rise.

“A lot of people come and watch us,” Bhakta said. “It’s not only Indian people. ... There are a lot of Americans and Mexicans who come and watch. And they ask questions — ‘How do you guys play this stuff?’ They go online and watch YouTube so they can get some idea of what we play here.”

 

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