By JESSE LONG
Pranjal Gupta, a UT marketing professor, may be known on campus for his work in the classroom, but he is currently working towards a different goal in the Tampa Bay community.
Last month, Gupta helped start a cricket program for kids ages 6-14 in the Tampa Bay area. He is currently working with four assistant coaches to teach the basics of the game to about 40 young players. Once the kids have developed their knowledge of the game, they will form teams and get to play in a league of their own in the spring.
Gupta, originally from Singapore, played cricket for his country until 1996 when he came to the U.S. in order to get his Ph.D.
“I represented the Singapore National Cricket Team for about five years and represented and captained the Singapore National U-23 cricket team for about three years,” Gupta said. “With these teams, I have represented my country both in regional competitions and international tournaments.”
In total, Gupta played eight years for Singaporean national cricket teams.
Part of Gupta’s inspiration for the league comes from his son, Rohan Gupta, who shares Gupta’s passion for the sport. Gupta introduced his son to the game at a young age. There were, however, no organized places for him to learn cricket or play with other kids. As a result, Gupta coached him until he was able to participate in adult leagues at the age of 15.
Last year, Rohan was selected for the U.S. National U-19 Cricket Team and was a part of their reserve squad for the world cup qualifiers in early 2016. Rohan is currently a member of the U.S. National U-17 Cricket Squad with the opportunity to be selected to represent the U.S. in the U-19 Cricket World Cup qualifiers come 2017.
Although there are a large number of adult cricket teams in the Tampa Bay area, Gupta said it was this experience with his son that he discovered a lack of youth cricket in the Tampa Bay community, which prevented his son from playing with kids that were his own age.
“Starting this league was my way to try to help younger players in this area play the game within their age group,” Gupta said. “The more facilities we provide at a younger age, the more players Tampa Bay will be able to send for competitions at age-group level that occur around the country.”
Gupta currently coaches the kids in the program at Evans Park cricket fields in Seffner, Florida. The grounds for the program were developed by Hillsborough County, but are managed by the Tampa Cricket League, of which the new youth league is a new part.
Although many of the kids are learning the game of cricket for the first time, many of their parents grew up playing it. Some kids possibly have even played informally with their parents in the past.
“Most adults had learned the game from their country of origin,” Gupta said. “For example, people who have moved to Tampa Bay from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Caribbean Islands, England, South Africa , Zimbabwe, Australia or New Zealand already know the game. There was no way for a young kid to be introduced to, play and enjoy the game if they were born and brought up here.”
Even though there are cricket leagues in Tampa and the U.S., there are still some people that don’t know that much about the sport.
“All I know about cricket is that they played on the softball field after my games back home in Massachusetts,” said Andrew McCarthy, a junior environmental science major.
McCarthy may not know that much about cricket, but there is a connection between cricket and baseball.
“It is not very different from baseball,” Gupta said. “In fact, if you looked up the history of baseball, you will find that it is a derivative of cricket. The scoring and equipment and rules may be different, but the fundamentals are very similar.”
In addition to learning the game of cricket specifically, Gupta sees the value of coaching the kids for other reasons as well.
“It is a wonderful team sport,” Gupta said. “A kid can and will learn to work in a team rather than focus only on individual performance. Like all sports, it teaches one to deal with success as well as failure. It is fun, engaging and also is a great teacher of social skills. Kids learn discipline, the value of effort and end up with a hobby for life, like it is for me.”
Not only does Gupta have his knowledge of the game to help guide his coaching, he has also recently received training as a Representative Level Coach from Cricket Australia, which is the governing body for professional and amateur cricket in Australia. According to Gupta, they came to the U.S. to provide Level Two training, which trains a coach to be able to coach representative level teams. This training is endorsed by the International Cricket Council, which is the worldwide body that governs the game.
“Since I do not play any more, I want to give back to the game that gave me so much,” Gupta said. “It is wonderful to see my son now represent his country like I represented mine. I would like to have other kids in the area enjoy that privilege as well.”
Jesse Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.