Local cricket players searching for new Eastside practice facility

BELLEVUE, Wash. — The sport of cricket is gaining in popularity worldwide. Now local groups are capitalizing on it with youth programs, minor league, and even a major league team for the Seattle region.

But there has to be a place to practice, and KIRO 7′s Ranji Sinha says a group that had a facility in Bellevue is looking for a new home thanks to a development that could edge them out.

Top-flight cricket features competition and drama that spans countries and continents. It’s a sport that’s entertained and continues to entertain millions of people. Soon, it will also be featured in the Olympics.

Salman Taj lives on the Eastside and has worked with both professional players and youth programs in and around Bellevue. He grew up with a love of cricket but wondered if the sport would take hold in the U.S.

“I never imagined when I moved to (the) U.S. that there would be such a thriving ecosystem for cricket,” said Taj.

Sinha met Taj and a number of other people at a fairly nondescript office park in Bellevue along 120th Avenue Northeast at the intersection of Northeast 12th Street.

It is home to Willow Cricket Academy and the office park is facing redevelopment. The area around it has seen a lot of construction. Jagan Nemani is also affiliated with the academy and said the practice facility has been home for a few years.

“We came into this facility in 2020. It could be nice to move somewhere new,” said Nemani.

He said the facility is running out of space and the lease is about to run out on the cricketers. He explained the level of commitment some of the players and their families have to the sport, but they need to find a new place to play and practice.

Cricket is having a Western Washington moment. Within the past year, we’ve seen a minor league team win a national championship. There are also beautiful new cricket grounds in North Bend in the shadow of Mt. Si.

A new major league team, the Orcas, is on the horizon. Taj said the sport that he saw as just a game when he was young has turned into something else.

“What we used to do back there, kids are able to do it now, but with better infrastructure than what we had,” said Taj.

Taj said cricket’s local rise is as grassroots as things get — immigrants brought the game here. He said young people are now competing on under-21 and under-15 teams that sometimes travel the country.

Things are so grassroots surrounding cricket locally that coaches, pro, and semi-pro players sometimes practice with the teens, according to Nemani.

“The kids practice, finish, then the minor league players start coming in,” he said.

Nemani is involved in the search for a new Eastside practice facility.

“The cricket population is mostly on the Eastside: Bellevue, Redmond, Woodinville, and Bothell,” said Nemani.

The new major league franchise could call the facility home and share space with young people hoping to play in minor or major leagues or join USA cricket for a shot at the Olympics.

Nemani said participation in the sport could rise with new and better facilities.

“Parents feel good because their kids are playing cricket. The kids feel good because it’s a very active sport, and it brings all of us together,” he said.