PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas – A typical Texas Sunday consists of two things: church and football, and not always in that order. But in this community northwest of Houston, known for its agricultural roots and its historically black college that bears its name, the gridiron now has some competition. Every Sunday, for hours, four circular lawn fields on the side of Highway 290 host dozens of men waving flat-faced wooden bats. Most are immigrants whose conversations are a mixture of English, Urdu and Hindi, as well as terms that many foreigners might find just as foreign: wickets, inheritance rights and sureties. The game they play is cricket, and its emergence here reflects the incredible diversity of the country's fourth largest city and its vast expanse. Prairie View, located about 45 km from downtown Houston, may seem an unlikely place for an international cricket destination, but Houston businessman, Tanweer Ahmed, is looking to change that. Ahmed is transforming a 24-hectare site into a gigantic sports complex comprising seven cricket grounds, a youth academy and a stadium large enough to accommodate teams of professionals. "Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world after football, and the United States is missing out on that part of the world," he said. "But the United States has huge potential." In recent decades, the growth of the immigrant population in Houston has profoundly transformed the local culture. Hispanics are now the largest racial or ethnic group, but the Asian population is growing fastest. There are flourishing Vietnamese, Indian and Pakistani communities, and the metropolitan area is home to some of the best curries, kebabs and South Nihari. The city is dotted with halal butchers and international grocery stores selling South Asian staples such as chickpea flour.
Competitive cricket made its debut this fall in Prairie View, Texas, where a major complex is planned. (Michael Stravato / For the Washington Post) And socially, it is just as common to hear immigrants and immigrant children talking about Virat Kohli or Jasprit Bumrah – both men are professional cricketers in India – only to hear others talk about quarterback Tom Brady. According to Ahmed, this makes the area ideal for cricket. The first four fields of the Ahmed complex were opened in early September and the first games brought together half a dozen teams, who played for hours despite the heat, humidity and mud of the days. rain. With each bowl – a loop throw, a full circle – and every "thunder" of the ball – a sound different from that of baseball, considering the drummer's flat blade – shouts of "oy, oy, oy!" Have sounded. Cricket has long failed to generate much interest in this country, but this is changing, largely because of the country's changing demographics. "What's the fastest growing sport in the US?", Wrote George 2016 Kirsch, Professor Emeritus at Manhattan College, in the Journal of Sport History in 2016. "Surprisingly, with the possible exception of to be lacrosse, the answer is cricket. " Many immigrants, especially those from South Asia and the Caribbean, found that it allowed them to connect. Saad Motiwala, a 27-year-old Pakistani immigrant in the field on the first Sunday at Prairie View, appreciates the polyglot nature of the sport as well as the different cultures and communities it brings together. "Playing cricket allows you to meet people you would never meet otherwise," said Motiwala, who works at a BMW dealership and plays with Ahmed at the Gaous Azam Cricket Club. The sport is already so popular in the region that more people want to join the Houston Cricket League, made up of 31 teams, that the available fields can not accommodate. Ahmed decided to set up a batting cage and a bowling pitch on the vacant property he owned at Prairie View so his teammates could train. Shortly after, they asked him if he would consider using the land to build additional land that the league could use. That's when the idea of the cricket complex was born. Ahmed's passion is reflected in his often serious behavior. And his own story might seem as unlikely as the huge sports facility that he intends to build. He grew up in Punjab, Pakistan, where his parents were farmers and was 19 when he immigrated to California with his family. He immediately started working in fast food restaurants. In eight years, he went from cashier to manager. "Where I come from, you have to sacrifice a little to earn something," said Ahmed, who is 50 years old. "So, for me at that time, I sacrificed my daily activity, my daily entertainment and I focused on the work.And this determination has led me to where I am today. Today he owns more than 150 KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut franchises in four states, as well as an energy company and a construction company.He recognizes that he lives the classic American dream but he is modest about it, "If I can do it, anyone can do it, that's how I see it," he said recently, "If you really go back, a child of 19 years old comes here without anything in his pocket and just starts working. "He jokes that as soon as his four children have graduated from university, they should take over the food so he can return to cricket at full time Ahmed played at school in Pakistan but aa bandaged the game for decades after moving to the United States. He resumed it in 2016 at the suggestion of some of his employees. "I stopped playing because I could not afford the time," he said from his office in North Houston. "I was working three times and I barely had time to sleep." During the month since the complex hosted its first games, parking was paved, pavilions were covered and signs were posted mounted. Ahmed plans to open a cricket academy there in May, where local children can learn the game and, hopefully, become fans for life. For now, Ahmed is funding the bulk of the project himself and has already spent several million dollars, but he is looking for donations to complement the community's efforts to help preserve the future complex for years to come. Its ultimate goal is a stadium that can accommodate up to 50,000 spectators. If Ahmed's vision is realized, Prairie View, with a population of 6,400, could become a destination of choice for cricket fans around the world. Mayor David Allen is working to make the city ready. He began talking to developers of building more and more hotels and restaurants, as well as to the state to make the fields more accessible from the highway . "Cricket does not look like a few hours at a football or baseball game," Allen said. "It can easily take a few days." Some students and professors at Prairie View A & M University are also excited to have the complex nearby. Pankaj Chhetri, 30, a former student and IT professional at the School of Architecture, wants to create a cricket team at the university for two years. Having no room to play, it has settled with several international students on the school tennis court. "Most of them are Asian students, faculty and staff from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh," said Chhetri. "But some of my African-American friends are also interested because it's something new for them. I told them, "It's like Indian baseball."