JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — This summer, Shakerag Park became the first public park in the state with cricket batting cages.
Shafiq Jadavji, a member of the city’s Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee who was instrumental in their installation, compared the cages to the moon landing: a small step for Johns Creek, but a giant leap for cricket in Georgia.
These days in the United States, cricket is overshadowed by its bat-and-ball cousin, baseball, but the history of cricket in this country actually precedes “America’s pastime.”
The first international cricket match, what some deem to be the first international game ever, was between the U.S. and Canada in 1844. Baseball did not catch on until the Civil War.
Cricket made a resurgence in America in the late 20th century, largely thanks to immigration from the West Indies and South Asia where the sport is more popular.
More than a quarter of Johns Creek’s population is Asian, according to 2017 U.S. Census data, with Indian being the largest group, around 10 percent, creating a subculture of cricket players and fans.
Jadavji, a lifelong cricket enthusiast, has made it his goal to spread the sport in the city. He said when he moved to Johns he was at first disheartened by the lack of engagement between the city and parts of its diverse population.
“How do you create engagement?” Jadavji asked. “There are some universal languages, such as art, music, culture, sports.”
So Jadavji worked to facilitate engagement through cultural sharing. He was part of the team that spearheaded the Johns Creek International Festival, and he sees introducing cricket as part of that goal.
“Being a first-generation migrant is not easy,” Jadavji said. “For kids, it’s easy. Adopt a new sport? No big deal. You go to school; you play baseball; you pick up basketball. The parents, the first-generation migrants, they still love the sport of cricket.”
Last fall, Jadavji saw his vision take shape when the City Council allocated $30,000 to build cricket fields at Shakerag Park.
“It took a few years to educate City Council members: what is the sport of cricket?” Jadavji said. “I’ve sat down with City Council members dressed up in a cricket outfit, cricket pads, bat, helmet and said, ‘Ok, this is the field. You play in the middle.’”
Building the first cricket batting cages in the region was a struggle for the city and its contractors just to figure out the specifications. A cricket pitch is a similar length to the distance from a baseball pitcher to home plate, but the surface is flat, with no mound.
Cricket bowlers run forward before a throw, so unlike enclosed baseball cages, the new cages at Shakerag are open on one end. Also, while most of the cages’ flooring is concrete covered by artificial turf, on the open end there is a bouncier playground surface beneath the turf, which is easier for the bowlers to run on.
There was a ribbon cutting ceremony for the cricket batting cages on June 11, with some City Council members in attendance to witness the sport firsthand.
“As our community continues to diversify, Johns Creek is going to persist in providing our residents facilities for recreation,” Mayor Mike Bodker said at a council meeting. “The project is a result of the teamwork between our city and our community, and nothing makes me prouder.”
Jadavji said he was overjoyed with the development.
“It’s not just about the sport,” Jadavji said. “It’s about the engagement, and this is a tremendous opportunity to engage a segment of the Johns Creek population that has historically not been as engaged.”
Jadavji said these batting cages could be just the beginning for making Johns Creek a hub for cricket in the Southeast. He hopes to start a middle school and high school league, see a full cricket field built at Cauley Creek park and make Johns Creek the home of a professional team.
USA Cricket, the governing body for cricket in the country, is working to create a six-team professional league. With warm weather, an international airport and big-name corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola, Atlanta has the potential to be a leader in the sport for America, Jadavji said.
If this vision becomes a reality, it will have begun with a grassroots movement in Johns Creek.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to meet the needs of the community, capture what is going to happen and make Johns Creek the center of cricket in the Southeast,” he said.