To the casual passerby, Douglass Park resembles little more than a suburban patch of green grass near a major highway intersection.
White soccer goalposts are scattered and tilted on their sides. A chain-link fence separates an industrial zone from a handful of baseball fields with no backstops. To the west, the Devon Tower erupts from the skyline where Interstate 35 meets Interstate 40.
It’s a former city water and waste site turned into a livable outdoor space. But to a team still chasing childhood dreams, it means so much more.
Douglass Park, 709 N Bryant Ave., is home to the Oklahoma City Strikers Cricket Club, a group of amateur cricket players. In the northwest corner of the park, a newly installed grass surface plays host to its games against teams from Oklahoma and Kansas. And while the surroundings might be modest, it is another major building block toward the team’s ultimate goal.
“We want to get to the professional level soon,” said Nash Kannan, 32, Strikers president. “Eventually, with some help, we’ll get there.”
It’s a dream that began in 2001, when Andy Westmuckett, 55, and a few others founded the club.
What started as eight people gathering weekly to run drills has evolved into 35 men comprising two teams who play in a highly competitive amateur league. The Strikers used to play in a retention pond in south Oklahoma City. Anytime a game was interrupted by rainfall, play was canceled because of the likelihood the pond would flood.
But with permission from the city and help from some corporate sponsors — Connelly Pavement Co., Jacobs General Contracting and Urban Lawn and Landscape Inc. — the team was able to claim the new playing space as home.
“Our sponsors have been really generous this year,” Kannan said. “We don’t really get much help from the city. It’s not their fault. They’ve been really fair to us to help us in whatever ways they can. But it’s a budget issue.”
The world’s game
The Strikers are a model of diversity, with 35 members whose origins span the U.S., India, Pakistan, England, Africa and Bangladesh. With so much culture variation, and players’ ages ranging from 17 to 55, it can be difficult finding common ground — at least initially.
“As long as they speak English, we have no problem at all,” said Westmuckett, from England. “A lot of these guys, they’ll talk in their own language for most of the day, and when they come here, they have to realize they have to speak English, because it’s the one common language that everybody understands.”
It’s also a well-educated group, featuring a number of members with master and doctorate degrees. Some have children.
Others are finishing up college. What binds them is a love for a game that was engrained in their childhood.
“It was something that we grew up playing,” Kannan said. “It comes very naturally to us. Out here the kids can throw a football and shoot a basketball. But it’s likewise in the Asian countries — they can bat, throw a ball and play cricket.”
While the team’s competition might be amateur, its dedication is professional. A pair of players commute from Weatherford to practice each week. When the Strikers travel to Wichita, Kan., for matches, they wake up at 4:30 a.m. for the drive north.
“We hate it for about three hours before we start the game,” said Hiren Patel, 28, from Zambia. “Then, we forget about it.”
Karthik Viswanathan, 35, from India, said the Two State Cricket League, which has 13 teams, doesn’t take competition lightly. The Strikers have even developed some rivalries with area teams.
“We have games that have had nail-biting finishes where it usually goes up to the last ball,” he said. “Overall the competition is fierce, we try to take it up a notch when we’re competing with these other teams.”
The next steps
When the Strikers play a home match at Douglass Park, a few friends and family sit on a small set of metal bleachers to cheer on the club. There are no restrooms. No trees or awnings provide shade during relentlessly hot summers. There are no banners from advertisers.
Those might seem like minor details, but Kannan said those amenities are vital to the Strikers’ growth.
Kannan dreams of having an international sports venue in Oklahoma City where community members and business vendors can come together to promote and play little-appreciated international sports, such as cricket and rugby.
“This is a sport that can actually grow in Oklahoma City and anywhere else,” Kannan said. “It’s an international sport.”
The Strikers held their first kids camp last year at Myriad Botanical Gardens. The team also held a fundraiser to help offset operational costs — hiring umpires, buying equipment, providing lunch for opposing teams. Nearly everything is funded out of players’ own pockets.
That’s OK for now, Westmuckett said, as long as the league continues to head in the right direction.
“It’s important for Oklahoma,” Westmuckett said.
“It’s a really under-appreciated game here. It’s one of the few sports that you find where so many diverse cultures come together.”
Did you know?
More about cricket
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?