Before the first bowler’s opening one-bounce delivery to the first batsman, the World Series of Cricket already sported the trappings of a sport putting down roots in the Napa Valley.
Family, friends and the curious took places on the bleacher seats, or made their own accommodations by pitching tents. Canopies provided shade for a T-shirt stand and the refreshment booth that would serve athletes and fans during the mid-match drinks break; club member Jamie Johnson, who played cricket in Great Britain for 24 years, gave running commentary on the public-address system.
The match even drew the attention of Mayor Jill Techel, who tossed a coin to decide which side would bat last – the joint team of Australians and Americans, or the opposing Rest of the World drawn from Great Britain, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and the other cricket-loving nations.
Each summer since 2012, the Napa Valley Cricket Club has mounted its World Series of Cricket, a setting where competition is blended with outreach to an audience largely unfamiliar with the sport played in more than 100 nations. For the sixth annual competition Sunday, the club and its showcase had their largest stage yet – a field at the Napa Valley Expo, where the players moved this season from the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga.
If the contest is meant to woo Napans to an unfamiliar sport, the club has become a way for many of its members to reconnect with it.
After leaving his native Pakistan for American Canyon in 2009, “I didn’t play for five or six years, totally lost contact with cricket,” remembered Adersh Maqsood of the club’s maroon-capped Rest of the World team. “Then my brother played for half a year told me about this club. And once I played a game here, I loved the guys, loved the vibe. Everyone is like one big family here.”
Among the Americans taking the pitch was Peter Cameron, who took up the sport after watching the Napa Valley club’s first World Series three years ago – but whose ties to the pastime ran much deeper.
“My father was British and he was a pretty good player – and then he moved here,” recalled Cameron, who played baseball and soccer through his high school years. “I knew about the game, my father was passionate about it, and I even grew up around cricket memorabilia.”
The idea of Napa Valley-based cricket club was born in 2010, when two Australian employees of Treasury Wine Estates in Napa reconnected to the game of their youth by joining an informal game with the club in Davis. Within a year, they found another 17 like-minded Napa Valley residents – two of them Americans – formed a team and played five games in Marin and Yolo counties. By 2012, the club incorporated as a nonprofit and established a pitch at the Calistoga fairgrounds, the team’s home until this season.
“We had no history, no ground,” said Andrew Healy, the Irish-born founder of 3 rock marketing who serves as Napa Valley Cricket’s vice president. “But I always believed that with the group of people who were involved with the club, anything was possible. I like to think we work hard from 9 to 5, and then we work even harder for our cricket club.”
United by their sport, the Napa Valley cricketers increasingly find themselves tightly bound away from the pitch, according to Healy. In addition to practices every Thursday evening on the Napa State Hospital grounds and the team’s touring schedule (which included competition last week in Vancouver), the players have developed a circuit the opens with with a preseason “Curry Night” family cook-off and includes golf outings with team sponsors, spa days for wives and girlfriends and more.
With the World Series of Cricket now 45 minutes closer to Napa than before, hopes for greater exposure ran high among the players.
“I’m hoping for a larger crowd, a couple hundred,” said Bernie Peacock, a New Zealander captaining the Rest of the World side. “The problem now is we have more people who want to play than can play – and that’s the first time it’s happened!”
As the players took their places on the field – an oval 60 yards long and 80 yards wide, its boundary marked with chalk lines – the sight of flat-sided bats of willow and athletes in white trousers and collared shirts produced an unusual image of home for some of the spectators.
“I’ve been in America 17 years, and this is the first time here that I’ve seen cricket live,” said Australian-born Kate Carlson, who drove up from San Jose for the competition.
“It’s incredible – this is what you would do on a Sunday afternoon back home,” said Caine Thompson, who came to Napa last year from New Zealand. “It’s almost like a U.N. (of players) coming here, and it’s good level of cricket, really well run.
“It’s not often we get to be with others who understand. It’s nice to have a touch of Kiwi in Napa.”