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The much awaited New Jersey Junior Cricket League (NJJCL) roared to a start on Saturday with a match between Black Ops and Alpha Wolves. Alpha Wolves led by Pranav Kanukollu defeated Black Ops led by Sahan Ratnayake by 3 wickets in a 25-over rain-shortened match played at the Colonial Park in Somerset, NJ.
Pic (Right): Captains of the teams Pranav Kanukollu and Sahan Ratnayake after the toss.
“Not even mother nature could keep the players, parents and supporters from their long awaited debut! Although the skies were overcast, the kids both seasoned and novice were a pleasure to watch! The kids made both Coach Daley and I proud to be their coaches!” Coach Malika Frank said on the occasion.
Speaking at the launch, Venu Palaparthi, who assisted with the league’s formation said: “This is another milestone in a long but very satisfying journey. There were several obstacles to overcome before we could launch - firstly and most importantly, the league needed a ground, and we also needed to recruit enough players to form at least two teams.”
A word-of-mouth recruitment effort in the weeks following the ICC World Cup helped bring in enough players into the league for two teams. More kids are expected to join after the school year ends. The league has also launched a Facebook campaign to recruit more players.
A breakthrough on the ground was achieved thanks to the efforts of the Amwell Valley Cricket Club (AVCC). Hillsborough based AVCC teaches Americans how to play the game in a family-oriented and recreational setting. “NJJCL’s coaching and development of youth cricket aligns well with our mission,” Alan George, President of AVCC wrote notifying his club's agreement to sharing the use of its ground.
Pic (Right): NJJCL boys raise their bats at an overcast sky as they pose for a picture ahead of the inaugural match. Also in the picture are Coaches Earl Daley and Malika Frank.
As a result of the agreement, the NJJCL will move to its permanent home at the Hillsborough Golf and Country Club next week and will play all its matches there until mid-September.
The cricket ground, situated on the far-end of the golf course is a one-of-a-kind facility with a well-groomed outfield maintained by the golf course. “The weed-free outfield is cut to 2 inches, the square has four well maintained pitches and there is also a practice facility with two nets. Not to forget the clubhouse and the other amenities of the golf course. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best ground for the junior cricket league,” Palaparthi said.
The other important thing that needed to be addressed was governance. “For this, we studied cricket development models in other countries and came to the conclusion that the best programs were actually those that were supported by the local cricketing bodies. I proposed to the Cricket League of New Jersey to see if they would take the youth cricket activities under their umbrage, and they agreed in principle,” Palaparthi said.
Pic (Right): The NJ Junior Cricket League will be played at the Hillsborough Golf and Country Club (top-right corner of this aerial-view of the golf course).
The NJ Youth Cricket Program will be an autonomous extension of the CLNJ from a legal standpoint. CLNJ is a non-profit 501(c)(7) organization. The NJ Youth Cricket Program will be financially self-sufficient and a youth cricket committee comprising parent representatives, coaching staff and volunteers will run the operations of the program.
Clarifying the difference between the NJ Youth Cricket Program and NJ Junior Cricket League, Palaparthi said, “The NJ Youth Cricket Program comprises three initiatives - the NJ Cricket Outreach to enhance participation in the sport across the garden state, the NJ Junior Cricket League to provide year-round playing opportunities and the CLNJ Colts team, which will serve as a feeder from age-group cricket to the senior league.”
While the NJJCL has found a home at the Hillsborough Golf and Country Club, the remaining initiatives of the NJ Youth Cricket Program are on the lookout for cricket grounds in order to be successful. Negotiations are underway with several other grounds in Edison, South Brunswick, Piscataway and Plainfield so that the activities of the program are not constrained by ground availability.
Pic (Right): The cricket ground at Hillsborough Golf and Country Club is in the background to the left of the barn.
“We are thankful for the support of NJ’s leagues, especially CLNJ, the Millennium Cricket League and the NJ Soft Ball Cricket League for their enthusiastic support in addressing the ground needs,” Palaparthi said adding that the Staten Island Cricket Club, the oldest operating cricket club in USA, has also agreed to provide the use of its ground and facilities.
Palaparthi singled out Bharat Patel for special praise. “Bharat has been playing a crucial role in the league and his ongoing support is vital to the success of this league and the program,” he said.
"I just want to see kids play cricket in USA. They are so lucky because cricket has come a long way here since the time I started playing here in 1987. I just want to help them take the next step," Bharat Patel told DreamCricket.com.
The NJJCL is not affiliated to any academy even though a majority of the kids are graduates of the DreamCricket Academy. “The academies, including our own, provide a means to an end. The academies help to improve skills but what the kids really need is a cricket league where they could play year-round within their age-group,” Palaparthi said.
Palaparthi emphasized that the NJJCL is open to all kids as long as they want to play the game. “We invite all kids over the age of 11, regardless of whether they received formal coaching or were coached informally by their own family members. If they have the ability and the inclination, the league’s doors are open,” Palaparthi added.
To find out more information regarding the league, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or join the Facebook page at "NJ Youth Cricket."
Pic (below): Picture of the practice nets at the NJJCL ground.