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Cricketers take to field after facility burns down

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The April 23 fire that gutted the Indoor Cricket USA building on 130th Street in Richmond Hill did not destroy the spirits of the children who called the facility home every Saturday.

Queens’ budding cricketers took their game outside Saturday morning, to a makeshift oval at Baisley Pond Park in South Jamaica. Though the grass was overgrown, and the rocky pitch had to be covered with canvas, the children, all of whom were under 15, were just happy to be playing again.

“I was kind of depressed because the indoor place burned down, but it feels good to be back with all my friends,” said Romano Sahid, 13, of Richmond Hill, as he took his place in the field.

The building was also home to two textile manufacturing companies.

The 25 young athletes who showed up to play Saturday were beneficiaries of Queens Village resident Vish Lekram’s mission to develop the game of cricket in the United States.

Buoyed by the success of a pilot program he launched two years ago at Forest Hills’ Russell Sage Junior High School and Ozone Park’s Virgil Grissom Middle School, Lekram, who is president of the United States Junior and Youth Development Program, envisions cricket becoming a fixture in schools across the country.

He has enlisted the help of Russell Sage teachers Sham Samaroo and Ben Boehm and Virgil Grissom teacher Vishnu Mahadeo to provide an academic component to the program, which includes 180 young cricketers. Former Guyana coach Gary Nascimento and former US national cricket players Zamin Amin, Bill Whyte and Zulf Ally teach cricketing skills.

“Slowly, the sport will take its place,” Samaroo said confidently.

With a smile on his face, Lekram noted that Saturday’s gathering was historic because it marked the first time ever in the United States that two under-15 cricket squads faced each other.

An environmental scientist who runs the Cricket International newspaper and “Cricket! Our Game,” a new program on I-TV (Time Warner, channel 77), Lekram said the loss of the indoor facility will hurt his program, but the onset of spring should provide a reprieve.

“It was a very beautiful thing. It aided all aspects of our program,” he said. “Now I have to take the program outdoors, but there are no dedicated cricket grounds.”

The young cricketers did not mind playing on the improvised Baisley Pond Park cricket oval Saturday. They listened intently as Nascimento barked encouragement.

“Well done! Good backing up!” shouted the coach, who tutored current West Indies captain Carl Hooper in the 1980s. He noted that there were a number of players who showed considerable talent in Saturday’s match.

“It’s a development program,” he said, while keeping an eye on the action. “This is a starting point to the future of cricket in the United States.”

Organizers hope the city will help them find a building suitable to house the program before cold weather arrives in October.

“I’m afraid to think what would happen if we don’t get a building,” Samaroo said. “There would be [more than] 150 kids with nowhere to go on Saturdays.”

If the city does not come through, the young cricketers had an idea of their own to help rebuild the Indoor Cricket USA facility.

“We could go on Liberty Avenue and hold up a big sign to collect money,” Sahid said. “Everybody would give.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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