By Orin Davidson
He hails from Bangalore, one of India’s most progressive cricket cities, home of the popular IPL RCB Challengers franchise and where the game is more than a religion among residents.
For Ajith Bhaskar, who left for New York many years ago, New York has the potential to become America’s equivalent of Bangalore and is using the passion he developed there for the sport, in a challenging quest to take city’s game to the next level in an administrative capacity.
After serving as a quiet mover and shaker in the local leagues for more than a decade, Bhaskar rose to prominence to become an influential Board Director of USA Cricket, the country’s national ruling body and feels the time is right for New York’s development to take off.
It has its problems though, nevertheless but Bhaskar feels New York has the potential to be the cricket mecca of the United States.
“We live in a very diverse city with a great pool of talented players with connections to almost every cricket nation around the world, where the sport is continuing to hold its own as a major crowd attraction,” he proclaims.
However, improvement in a few areas are necessary to kick start the develop-mental thrust.
For starters, Bhaskar would be happy to have all the leagues and their respective clubs be united under USA Cricket’s jurisdiction.
Presently less than half of the functioning leagues in the city are registered with the national body and foremost is the need to have all leagues in New York unified through common affiliation with USA Cricket. “It is a problem we must overcome to begin the development process as it is the only way all stakeholders will enjoy the benefits available from USA Cricket,” Bhaskar stated.
He feels New York can eventually lead the way in making cricket outgrow its popularity in immigrant America and into the country’s mainstream population.
“The ultimate goal is to make cricket a mainstream sport in America and have us become a full member of the International Cricket Council [ICC),” Bhaskar emphasizes.
Presently the United States is one of the world ruling body’s Associate Members but the sport is played primarily on matting and artificial pitches, and New York like almost every other city has some catching up in acquiring standard turf surfaces.
Correcting this anomaly, unheard of in the cricketing world, is atop Bhaskar’s wish list.
“My first desire is for us to have our first turf pitch, a necessity that has been missing for too long here”, he stated, adding that seven more are needed within the next five years”,
He said Idlewild Park field and a few others including Baisley Park, Gateway Park and Marine Park facilities, have been identified and one will be outfitted by next year, explaining that plans are well advanced.
Of the current playing facilities in New York City’s five boroughs, Idlewild is the most popular and being located in Queens, it has size and history on its side.
It is where some of the more important games involving the United States nation-al teams have been staged in past years, with its spacious outfield meeting inter-national standards. Though it was not utilized for one of the biggest exhibition games organized in the Big Apple involving local players, when the Cricket Inter-national All Stars, featuring West Indies superstars Brian Lara, Shiv Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan among others, battled former United States captain Steve Messiah and his XI at Floyd Bennet Field in 2007, Idlewild has al-ways remained a favorite among players and officials.
Of course, New York has since then hosted world legends including Indian icon Sachin Tendulkar, Australia’s Shane Warne and Lara for the Cricket All Stars series at Citi Field baseball stadium, also in Queens, which attracted a sold out crowd of fans from around the country in 2015.
But without a cricket specific facility inclusive of stands in New York, the stars have not graced the state with their presence ever since.
However, hopes for the realization of that much needed stadium here have risen with USA Cricket’s growing support base.
Bhaskar said the ruling body’s aim is to help the respective Zones around the country acquire stadiums, training centers and other requirements, and as a result has partnered with American Cricket Enterprise (ACE), the umbrella conglomerate, which includes the powerful Willow television network and Times Of India newspaper, to provide the needed resources.
Coaching and umpiring also go hand in hand with the game’s development and Bhaskar sees a need for improvement in those areas as well. “We should have an ecosystem that will allow for improvement in coaching and umpiring at the same time”, he stressed
The USA Cricket Director added that ruling body is working to have a structure where every Zone, made up by the playing locations around the country will have personnel from the organization working specifically to manage the sport in the respective cities.
New York is the hub for the East Zone which has a greater multitude of leagues compared to the other five in the country and where T20 competitions dominate.
Bhaskar would however, like to see a return of more 40 and 50 overs competitions here, stating that the high concentration of T20 games are not providing the best exposure for players when they eventually have to represent the country in the sport’s longer format internationally.
In those years in the early 2000s, Bhaskar was known for his administrative work in the Commonwealth and National leagues, giving yeoman service for 14 years in New York, before taking his expertise to the higher level on the USA Cricket Board where he currently chairs the Competitions Committee.
With a work ethic developed from a background in Internet Technology, Bhaskar moved up the ranks, initially acquiring a position on USA Cricket’s Strategic Committee during which time America’s national team acquired One-Day International playing status and the organization’s Foundation Plan, which details its development goals to be achieved by 2030, was conceived.
This year Bhaskar almost singlehandedly managed the Commonwealth League in the absence of longstanding leader Lesley Lowe, despite the movement and crowd restrictions caused by the Corona virus pandemic being in place.
They pulled off three competitions without any violations of the COVID regulations at a time when most of the city’s leagues were forced into hibernation.
Bhaskar is also founder and Chairman of the New York Tennis Ball League comprising 24 teams, the only of its type in Long Island.
School cricket has also benefited from his expertise, as he managed to convince Hicksville High to include it in its sports program from next year.
In addition, Eisenhower Park in Long Island now has two new fields with permanent pitches, a result of Bhaskar’s work which required a 1000-person petition to support the project.
Yet despite his accomplishments, Bhaskar’s desire to help lift New York’s cricket to international standards on and off the field, still burns intensely, and given his commitment aligned with that Bangalore passion, expect results sooner rather than later.