Cricket still flourishing in Utah
John Platts, his wife, Emily, and their three young children departed Liverpool for America in early 1854, arriving in New Orleans 42 days later. They sailed up the Mississippi River to St. Louis and finally to Kansas City, where they began their overland trek to Salt Lake City.
A cholera outbreak along the way killed several of their traveling companions, as well as and two of their three children. When they finally arrived in Salt Lake City on Oct. 24, 1854, the Platts had left behind almost every non-essential possession, with one exception: a cricket bat.
Nasir Khan arrived in Utah 132 years later to attend the University of Utah. Khan played for the under-16 national team in Pakistan, where cricket is the national sport. He competed professionally there for a year before moving to England to play for the Glamorgan County Cricket Club, which is about 150 miles from John Platts' hometown of Coleorton, Leicestershire.
After playing two years for Glamorgan County, Khan came to the University of Utah at the age of 19 to study mechanical engineering. He felt lost in a city that was void of the sport he loved.
"I was a cricket nut," Khan said. "I was homesick, and I just wanted to play cricket."
Khan decided to make fliers and hand them out around campus in search of others who played. He soon found many international students who shared his love for the game, and they formed a club, the Salt Lake County Cricket Union.
"We formed the club six or seven months after getting together in 1986," Khan said. "I thought this was the first time that cricket had been played in Utah."
A professor informed Khan that the Platts had brought cricket to the state in the 1850s. Khan and his fellow international students didn't introduce cricket to the Salt Lake Valley they restored it.
The SLCCU still is alive and well today and competes as part of the Intermountain Cricket League, a five-team league founded in 2007 under the leadership of Khan.
But the Intermountain Cricket League is not the only place to find cricket in the Salt Lake Valley. The Indian Student Association at the University of Utah holds a tournament every year.
"I never expected cricket to be played in Salt Lake City," said Kiran Nair, the sports secretary of the Indian Student Association. "I used to play in India, but I didn't bring my full kit here because I didn't think any people would be playing."
Nair is 27 and came to the U.S. from India last August to pursue a master's degree at the University of Utah. He said cricket has helped him adjust to living in a new country. He is in charge of this year's tournament, which is ongoing.
This year there are 15 teams, each featuring 15 players. Three of the teams are made up of University of Utah students, while the other 12 teams are comprised of business professionals in the area, almost all of whom are from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The fact that Indians and Pakistanis are playing alongside one another in both the Intermountain Cricket League and the Indian Student Association's tournament is not a small detail.
In the Indian Premier League, arguably the best cricket league in the world, Pakistanis have been excluded from competing since the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai carried out by Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. There is one Pakistani born player in the IPL Azhar Mahmood but he competes as a British citizen.
"The politicians are the problem," said Khan, whose Salt Lake County Cricket Union team features players from both countries. "We are just playing cricket, and we are the best of friends. We come to each other's houses; we take them presents on their religious holidays. There is no issue. We can live together. We can live in harmony. Cricket is bonding us."
"We treat each other as human beings," Nair said. "None of these issues even come up. Everyone's happy. We don't even talk about it."
Later this year, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker will hand out the trophy to the team that wins the Intermountain Cricket League's championship. Becker was pleased to learn earlier this year that people were playing cricket in the city, especially people whose home countries are hostile toward each another.
"I thought it was fabulous," Becker said. "It's one of the enormous strengths of our city is the tremendous diversity, particularly in sports, the arts and schools. Look at what people are doing, enjoying themselves and contributing to the community. It's a great reflection on our community."
Intermountain Cricket League
• Five teams participate in the Intermountain Cricket League SLCCU, Layton Bashers, Vincent Hawks, Provo Utah Lions and Beehive Cricket Club.
• Matches take place Sundays at 11th Avenue Terrace Park in Salt Lake and James Woodward Park in Layton. A typical match lasts about six hours.
• During the regular season, each team plays each other three times. The top two teams at the end of the season play to determine a champion.
• The league's annual Labor Day tournament draws teams from Boise and Las Vegas.
• For information regarding the league or joining a team, visit http://www.saltlakecricket.com/icl.php or call Nasir Khan at (801) 913-1786.
Indian Student Association tournament
• There are 15 teams competing. Unlike the Intermountain Cricket League, this tournament uses a softer ball that does not require the batsmen to wear helmets and pads.
• The title match is scheduled for 4 p.m. Aug. 10. at 11th Avenue Terrace Park. Traditional Indian snacks will be served.