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The history of cricket in California, a surprisingly popular pastime

by Wisden Staff 5 minute read

California is home to a plethora of languages and cultures, each with its own cuisine, customs, and even sports.

Finding a place to play bocce or boules can be more challenging than finding a place to play basketball or football. But what if you are a lover of a sport that was established centuries ago and is played by millions of people across the world but is almost unknown in the United States?

Baseball was ‘invented’ in 1839, but cricket remained America’s most popular sport until the Civil War largely relegated it to the pavilion. However, if you say the word ‘cricket’ in Los Angeles now, most people will think of a small, noisy insect or the mysterious game people played on Downton Abbey.

Hit the ball hard, bowl (or pitch) properly, catch everything, and field like your life depends on it; these are the tenets shared by baseball and cricket, even if their histories are closer to those of distant relatives than siblings of one another.

Both professions are a lexical and statistical paradise, with convoluted regulations, a contentious past, and infamous scandals to boot.

Cricket games may take up to five days, the score frequently reaches the hundreds, and you don’t have to run after hitting the ball because a batter is out for the rest of the innings if he or she is dismissed.

While New York and Philadelphia were early epicentres of cricket’s popularity in the United States, the sport swiftly spread across the country, with San Francisco emerging as a significant hub for the sport by 1850.

Cricket and Betting

Just as with any other sport, cricket has its very own wager-happy fan base. This is especially true in California, even though there are no locally regulated bookmakers across the state at the moment. As a matter of fact, according to Augusta Free Press research, California has access to hundreds of offshore regulated sportsbooks to choose from, offering punters a wide variety of options when it comes to finding a platform to bet on cricket, or any other sport in general.

19th Century

Teams existed by the late 19th century in Los Angeles and the surrounding region, although games were typically played on polo courts, agricultural parks, and even the beach due to a lack of dedicated pitches.

The Santa Monica Cricket Club was pushed from its downtown Los Angeles pavilion in 1913. The first permanent cricket ground in Los Angeles didn’t open until 1920, by which time many newcomers from England were looking to make it big in the movies rather than play the sport.

Henry Pratt was one of them; he was a local player and coach for the UCLA Bruins. (It’s intriguing to speculate on the freshmen’s reactions when they saw him in the role of Frankenstein as Boris Karloff in the movies.)

When former Test cricketer C. Aubrey Smith moved to town, everything altered.

Although he was known for his ‘English toff’ performances in films like The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and Rebecca, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940, his true love was cricket, and in 1932 he created the amateur Hollywood Cricket Club.

Hundreds of English extras were being used at the time for a film about the Boer War called Cavalcade, and many of them were excited to hear the sound of leather on willow despite the fact that they were filming in California, where the sun is much hotter and the pitches are much harder to play on than back home.

Smith, who earned the nickname ‘Round the Corner’ among bowlers for his unconventional playing style, picked white, green, and magenta as the team’s colors, insisted on a code of conduct and fair play and saw his team’s outlandish fashion choices bring them notoriety far beyond the confines of the sport.


In 1999, a group of devoted Brits founded the Los Angeles Social Cricket Alliance to revive the spirit of Smith’s period, and since then, celebrities like Mick Jagger and Hugh Grant have made guest appearances to play in a lighter setting while also attending matches.

An all-American team from crime and homeless backgrounds, Compton Cricket Club, played in the league. The club’s founding members saw cricket as a way to instill the spirit of fair play, sportsmanship, and respect among the players and to challenge harmful perceptions in Los Angeles and beyond.

In an effort to gain a wider audience in the United States, Cricket All-Stars made its debut in November 2015. A group of international players visited baseball fields in three towns, where they played several of the fast-paced T20 exhibition matches and went on a hospitable crusade, chatting with youngsters, offering seminars, and even giving baseball a try.

At Citi Field in New York, there were 36,000 spectators, while at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, there were 21,000. The tremendous hitting (a ‘six’ is a home run in cricket, and a T20 game involves numerous sixes) and the unending, insane excitement of the audience amazed the bemused Dodger staff.

Cricket is like a religion in India, and the country’s biggest stars can’t even leave their homes without being swarmed by adoring fans. Even in Hollywood – the center of the film industry – only their ecstatic followers gave them any kind of recognition.

Indian and Indian-American fans cheered enthusiastically after every hit and pitch. Many of them had traveled for hours to be there. A few of them even stated they didn’t care about the cost since the experience itself was priceless. That’s how convincing a familiar flavor can be.

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