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The sport of cricket is mostly played by men — that's changing in New Jersey

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of the world's biggest sports tournaments is coming to the United States this summer, the Cricket World Cup. Let me tell you, in many countries, everything stops when cricket is on - a country like Pakistan, for example. The sport is much less well-known in the United States and mostly played by men. But in Livingston, N.J., that is changing. Buffy Gorrilla reports.

BUFFY GORRILLA, BYLINE: It's the opening day of the 2024 cricket season. Women dressed in athletic gear chat excitedly on a New Jersey cricket pitch.

GAYATRI PESHIN: All right. Let's go. Cricket. Come on, ladies. Cricket.

(CHEERING)

GORRILLA: With this big cheer, the season gets underway.

PESHIN: Everybody, batting, bowling. OK, we pick bowling.

GORRILLA: So cricket - no, not the chirping insect but the popular sport. It's a little like baseball. There's a bat, a ball, innings. Players score runs. But that's where the comparisons end. Matches can last for days. Play used to stop for a cup of tea. There's a throw called the googly. The rules and the game seem really complicated but not for Gayatri Peshin.

PESHIN: This has been my dream game right from my childhood. So I used to play with my cousins and everywhere in the neighborhood. But here I am. I've got the chance, and I got the chance to play with the ladies.

GORRILLA: Cricket is a sport from England. People from around the British Commonwealth - India, Australia and the West Indies play. It's popular in communities with large South Asian populations, like here. But for many women, like Peshin, who is 53, she didn't get the chance to play as a youngster because it was mostly boys who took up the game. Finally getting to play this male-dominated sport is the motivation Nimisha Jain (ph) and Prachi Mata needed to get them out on this windy afternoon.

NIMISHA JAIN: My boys and my husband play. So this time, I said, you know what? I'll also join the team.

PRACHI MATA: My husband - he's been playing for a very, very long time now. So this is all new, and I'm participating in cricket for the first time.

PESHIN: Strong teams, both. OK.

GORRILLA: The women are in charge now, and they run things their way. They use a tennis ball instead of the regulation leather ball. They bowl or pitch using a modified technique. But like a lot of weekend players, Darshini Sutaria and Peshin are ready to throw down.

DARSHINI SUTARIA: I know we're being very nice to each other.

PESHIN: Nice to each other. Once the teams will be formed, we do different.

GORRILLA: Today is the first time the group has played together since October. But for Poonam Nachane, it's been a lot longer. And she's got the pressure of batting first.

POONAM NACHANE: I'm actually back after six years.

GORRILLA: Well, welcome back. How do you feel?

NACHANE: Thank you. Oh, I'm very excited and nervous because I'm going first. So I don't know. I'm surely going to miss every ball, I'm pretty sure (laughter).

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken). You switch.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken). Hey, Poonam.

GORRILLA: Nachane hits her first ball and takes off running. The women communicate in a flurry of Hindi and English.

SUTARIA: Once we get on the field...

(LAUGHTER)

SUTARIA: ...We are teenagers again. We get the competitive spirit. And I had no idea I had it in me until I met these girls.

(LAUGHTER)

SUTARIA: They're amazing. You know, not only do they teach me how to become a sportsperson, but they're also, like - they're very encouraging with our flaws. So I never feel left out.

GORRILLA: That's the goal - to make an inclusive place for everyone to have a try.

(CHEERING)

PESHIN: It's always fun to play cricket. For us, it has always been our dream game.

GORRILLA: As practice comes to an end, the women are out of breath but happy to be back on the field. They are playing a game that until just a few years ago, they were only watching. For NPR News, I'm Buffy Gorrilla in Livingston, N.J.

(SOUNDBITE OF VULFPECK'S "LOST MY TREBLE LONG AGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Buffy Gorrilla