Playing for Keeps

By Koren Wetmore

For Shahmeer Khaliqdina (EE ‘10, M.A.S. ECE ‘14), a world without cricket would be unthinkable. So when the Pakistani-born son of a professional cricket player arrived at IIT, the first thing he noticed was the sport's absence.

Shahmeet Khaliqdina
IIT Cricket Club
Photo: Sachin Raj

“I saw we had all of these other sports-basketball, baseball, soccer-so why not cricket?” he says. “I’ve always loved playing cricket and for me, it is life. I don’t think I could survive without it.”

Khaliqdina and 20 of his peers petitioned to form the IIT Cricket Club and in 2010 the intramural sport and the Scarlet Hawks cricket team became reality. Today the club boasts more than 150 members, about a third of whom started playing cricket for the first time through the club’s annual spring tournament.

The Keating Premier League is an eight-week indoor cricket tournament held annually in IIT’s Keating Sports Center. The games are played on a smaller court using tennis balls in place of the harder, traditional cricket ball. Eighteen teams and 145 students participated in the 2014 tournament, attesting to the sport’s growing popularity on campus.

“So when students see we have cricket here, it’s like regaining a lost love.”

“The club hosts the tournament on campus to get people to come out, get to know cricket, get the chance to play, and to have fun doing it,” says Khaliqdina. “Also, a lot of students get introduced to the sport by watching us play.”

For Travon Cooman (BCHM, ’14), the club brought recreation and balance to his rigorous academic schedule.

“The curriculum at IIT can be really challenging sometimes and you need a break. Playing cricket helped me to direct my energy, and gave me time to relax and do something apart from studying,” Cooman says.

Popular in the United Kingdom, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, the sport is slowly gaining traction in the United States. Similar to baseball, cricket actually predates America’s homegrown game in U.S. sports history. According to the United States of America Cricket Association, colonists played the game as early as 1737 and continued to do so after the nation’s independence from England. Now, more than 50 leagues exist nationwide and the Scarlet Hawks play in one of them: the Midwest Cricket Conference.

The MCC comprises teams from Chicago and the surrounding area as well as teams from Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., and St. Louis. The league offers players the chance to participate at a higher, more competitive level.

Despite being newcomers in 2010, the IIT Scarlet Hawks ended their first league season in fourth place and in the years that followed, they consistently made it to the playoffs.

Khaliqdina attributes the club’s success to the passionate commitment of the players and the support of the campus community. Faculty, staff, and fellow students promote the club through word of mouth and by posting fliers about the club’s tournament and the Hawks’ league competitions.

Although the club’s founding members have all graduated, cricket has definitely come to stay at IIT-a fact that pleases Khaliqdina.

“More and more of the students who come for master’s degrees at IIT come from places where cricket is really big. In coming to the U.S., they think the sport is over for them,” he says. “So when they see we have cricket here, it’s like regaining a lost love.”