Long before the Quakers stepped foot in the Palestra or on Franklin Field, another sport ruled Penn’s playing fields — cricket.
The Penn cricket team, the University’s first organized sports team, was established in 1842 and was active on and off through the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In its newest iteration, the current cricket club — restarted 10 years ago — is trying to recapture that tradition. Winning this week’s American College Cricket Championship in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., would be a big step.
Cricket is the “non-American version of baseball,” according to senior captain Saksham Karwal. Teams field 11 players, including one bowler, or pitcher. The opposing team bats and tries to score as many runs as possible. Once the ball is hit in play, two batters, spaced 22 yards apart, run back and forth between two sets of wickets — wooden stakes in the ground behind each batter. A batter can get out if his hit is caught before the ball touches the ground, or if the ball hits the wickets behind him.
Cricket is popular mainly in England, Australia, South Africa and the Indian subcontinent, where most of the Penn players are from.
Karwal says the sport is gaining momentum in North America with the growth of local cricket clubs and supporting organizations like the U.S.A. Cricket Association. Many of the area’s universities, including Villanova, Temple and Drexel, also field teams.
As the sport continues to grow, so does Penn’s cricket club.
The group, which has doubled in size in the past five years, is made up of about 30 undergraduate and graduate students, mostly from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Each year the team recruits students from countries where cricket is popular. Karwal said that many international students are thrilled to find out about the cricket club and need no convincing to join the team. Some even choose Penn specifically because of its cricket team.
Junior Roshan Rai said the cricket club was “one of the biggest reasons for applying to Penn,” while sophomore Jay Dave contacted Karwal after seeing cricket on the list of clubs at Penn after he was admitted.
Karwal, Rai and Dave are three of the club’s top players who will travel to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. this week to face 32 collegiate teams from the United States and Canada in the championship. Penn will be the only Ivy League representative.
This is the third collegiate cricket championship tournament and the second appearance for the Quakers. They will face six teams in their group and must win the group to move on.
At last year’s competition, the team failed to make it out of group play and into the semifinals. This year, it’s expecting more.
Many of the players said this is easily the best team they’ve seen at Penn, noting that it is more talented, balanced and experienced than in previous years.
“We have to [place first] and we can,” Karwal said. “We will not be satisfied without the trophy.”
“We have a fixed mindset,” Dave added. “Last year was about going out there and having fun, and this year we actually want to bring back the trophy.”
While winning a championship would mean a lot to Karwal and his team, bringing pride to the University is the foremost goal.
“We are going there only for one reason — to represent the University and to do the entire University proud, and I know that we will not let them down,” Karwal said.