Rounak Jaggi grew up playing cricket. It’s in his DNA — no further explanation needed.

See the ball, hit the ball, and have fun.

“I played from the start,” the 35-year-old Chaskan says. “That’s my first game that I played. I just love it. There’s no reason. I just want to go out, be on the field, and play this game.”

Now, Jaggi wants to give local children the same experience.

He and several others are working with the Chaska Parks and Recreation Department to bring a cricket field to McKnight Park. It could serve as a homebase for the newly-founded Chaska Cricket Club and recreational games.

WHAT IS CRICKET?

Club co-founder Anoop Kumar, 33, helps us picture the 11-player-per-team outdoor game. He’s been playing it for 20-some years.

“It is very similar to baseball, except that you can hit the ball 360 degrees around you,” he says, noting a cricket field is slightly larger.

There are two bases in the oval field: one where the pitcher throws the ball, the other where the batter stands. Then, the two teams compete.

“You try and score as many runs as possible,” Kumar says.

Equipment includes a ball similar to baseball size, a wooden paddle-like bat, wickets (which players can hit to get the batsman out) and protective gear.

The sport, thought to have started in England, is popular there and in Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and India, where Kumar and Jaggi grew up. Both the club and park officials say cricket is picking up in the U.S., too.

“Cricket is one of those sports that is very popular overseas and is slowly making its way over here to the states,” says Zac Johnson, Chaska recreation supervisor.

Jaggi says he’s confident about cricket’s interest level in the U.S.

“It’s a growing sport and, yeah, if you Google ‘cricket in the U.S.’ you will see the U.S team and people in the U.S. are investing big in cricket. By 2035 it’ll be a top five sport in the U.S.,” he says. “This is not gonna go anywhere. This will be here forever.”

BROOKLYN PARK TO MCKNIGHT PARK

Kumar and Jaggi play on the same amateur team through the Minnesota Cricket Association. They’ve played in leagues for the past dozen or so years, but it comes with a catch.

Most of the eight or so dutiful players in their group live in Chaska. And that’s not where the cricket fields are.

They’ll commute to Bryn Mawr Meadows Park in Minneapolis or Lakeland Park in Brooklyn Park.

“(It’s a) 30 to 40 minute drive for us,” Jaggi says. “That became a challenge for us, taking a lot of time out of our personal life.”

Although Kumar says the commute is a “very small part” of wanting a field in Chaska.

“It is good to have a field nearby for practice and stuff,” he says. “But the main driving force is to start passing some of the things we’ve learned and the sport itself to youth in Chaska.”

Late last year, Johnson and the parks and recreation department were already looking into possibly bringing cricket to Chaska.

When the Chaska Cricket Club first approached them about it, Johnson had already reached out to the state cricket association.

“We had no idea that cricket was actually here in Chaska,” he says. “The timing just kind of worked out perfectly.”

The department and club met several times to talk about what the field could look like. What fields could the city possibly fit a cricket field onto?

McKnight Park offered the most space, Johnson says, without barriers like fencing found in other parks. The park, which includes soccer and football fields, a playground, a shelter and walking paths, is directly west of Jonathan Elementary School.

“This is a perfect fit,” Kumar says.

The field, pending funding and city approval, could come to the park shortly after Memorial Day. The soccer fields share the space, so one sport would most likely play at a time.

PARTNERSHIPS

Johnson says the department sees a proper cricket field as a plus for the city.

“Parks and rec, we’re always looking for some different programming. We’re trying to offer more programming to a diverse population,” he says.

The department’s park maintenance staff would be able to construct the foundation for the cricket pitch, paid for by the city with council approval. The pitch is the center of the field, made of asphalt under AstroTurf.

Marshall Grange, Chaska Parks and Recreation director, says the cost of placing that subsurface is “very reasonable.” It would likely cost the department under $10,000, he says.

Jaggi says after the department would build the pitch, they’d need more funding from the community for the AstroTurf. The club has met with Chanhassen vendors who approximate costs around $7,000 to $8,000. That doesn’t include money needed for the proposed youth program.

Luckily, Kumar says the local cricket community is strong.

He knows at least 50 families who play, adding up to 100 to 150 locals who could use the field and potentially chip in. A GoFundMe has been set up for the club.

There’s a prospective funding stream to the city, Jaggi says, if the state league named the Chaska field as a tournament spot. But for now, Grange anticipates the space would primarily be a practice spot.

YOUTH PROGRAMMING

A major part of the Chaska Cricket Club’s pitch is to teach children to play cricket in conjunction with the parks and recreation department. Johnson says camps could even be in the mix.

Both Kumar and Jaggi would coach, along with others, and are hoping to start with at least 15 or 20 children for the programs. It would be their fifth year coaching.

“We don’t have a lot of time to play this game. (We’ll) maybe play for another five to seven years. Let’s pass this on to the youth of this country,” Jaggi says.

According to a letter from the coaching team, leaders will focus on helping children develop skill as well as self-esteem, work ethic and teamwork. Coaching staff would follow a long-term player development plan from USA Cricket.

“We will emphasize personal development over winning, work ethic over talent, and principles over skills,” the letter states.

The program would likely run once a week from May to July, focusing on 7- to 14-year-olds. It would be for beginners and intermediate players. Practices would probably be around an hour (or more) in the evenings.

They noted the field would be open to all community members and could even include instruction for adults new to the sport.

“Just like any other sport, it teaches you how you can bond with other players,” Jaggi says. “And then how you need to be a good team player to play this game, which not only helps you in this sport but then in any other aspect of your life.”

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