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WDM's cricket group finds field of its own
Register Staff Writer

A search by a group of Des Moines-area men for a suitable place to play the gentlemen's sport of cricket brought the traditional British game to West Des Moines.

The men, mostly emigrants from former British colonies or territories, didn't think it was right that they had to play their sport on substandard, makeshift fields.

Cricket, a game somewhat similar to baseball, is the pastime for the 23 members of the Knights Cricket Club, which found a home in Holiday Park last year.

"We were just looking for a place to play. We promised to pay for putting in a field and all the improvements," said Gau Sura of West Des Moines, one of the founders of the Knights.

Des Moines officials let the group use the grounds at several junior high-school locations, but they never agreed to let the team put in permanent facilities, which included a 30-foot-long-by-8-foot-wide concrete and artificial grass surface known as a pitch area.

"We were playing a dumbed-down version of the game. It was more like sandlot baseball. To play cricket right, you need a field with very exact specifications," Sura said. "We are just old-school purists. When we play the game, we like to play it right."

Then the team approached West Des Moines Parks and Recreation Director Gary Scott.

"He came out to our games. He took an interest in us. He studied what we wanted and what we needed," Sura said. "He finally made our dream happen. If it was not for him, we would not be here and have what we have. Without Mr. Scott, the parks board and the City Council, we probably wouldn't exist today. We are very grateful."

In gratitude, the group gave Scott a certificate proclaiming him "Sir Gary Scott" and named him a lifetime member of the Knights Cricket Club. The framed certificate hangs in Scott's office in West Des Moines City Hall.

Scott said he was glad to help.

"They are the nicest, most polite group of gentlemen I have ever dealt with," he said.

All the group's members needed was a little land to improve, at no cost to the city, so they could play their game by the rules, Scott said.

"We even stressed we wanted dual-purpose land that could be used for soccer, baseball, softball or whatever when we were not using it," Sura said. "We assured them we would be completely self-supporting, funding the whole thing ourselves."

Club members received a piece of land in the corner of Holiday Park that is a drainage area. Team members laid out the playing field, groomed the land and paid for the rectangular pitch slab.

The Knights were thrilled.

"Last September all of our phones just kept ringing," said Knights member Vamsee Sistla of West Des Moines. "There were calls that the concrete trucks were pulling in. Then there were calls that the Astroturf was being delivered. It had been our dream for years."

Sura said: "It is a wonderful piece of land. It is like a natural amphitheater. Our families can bring their lawn chairs or blankets and watch us play."

While the site is prone to rainouts, the group has no complaints.

"It is one of the best settings I have played in. There is a shelter nearby, we call it the pavilio," Sura said. "There are grills where we can barbecue. And the field is great. It almost seems surreal, but we are playing on as good as a surface as there is anywhere in the United States right here in Iowa."

Since the improvements were made last fall, the cricket fans have expanded their sport into an Iowa Cricket League. Teams have come from Omaha and Kansas City, Mo., to play in West Des Moines. This year a team from Moline, Ill., has agreed to join the league. The Iowa State University cricket team will hold practices and play its games in West Des Moines because of the improved field.

All would seem well with the Knights, but one hitch remains.

"We desperately need a lefty" to pitch and bat, said Mayuresh Mahatme of Des Moines.

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Cricket players inaugurate new 'pitch' at Holiday Park
Register Staff Writer
With much of the reverence due a religious ceremony, the Cricket League of Iowa was brought to life at Holiday Park in West Des Moines.

Men clad in white pants and white shirts embroidered with official emblems looked somewhat angelic June 7 as they gathered around the newly constructed "pitch," the rectangular, concrete playing surface that local cricket players had simply done without since they started the Knights Cricket Club in 1999.

The club's founder, Gau Sura, welcomed Gary Scott, director of West Des Moines Parks and Recreation, to throw out the cricket equivalent of the league's "first pitch."

The Knights paid for the construction of the new playing surface. The city of West Des Moines will provide the land and field maintenance.

"We're in business to facilitate people having fun," Scott said. He was presented a certificate that made him an honorary lifetime captain of the Knights under the unofficial title of "Sir" Gary Scott.

Before the match, Sura gave the Knights a pep talk. The team was divided into two squads for the inaugural competition.

Sura exhorted the club's players to "be the best players you can and be ambassadors of the sport," as well as to "be respectful of each other and familiarize yourself with the rules," thus honoring the "gentleman's game" tradition of cricket.

The Knights are made up of players from India, the West Indies, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Australia, countries that have excelled at a game originally brought to them by the British.

"They started the game, but they are no longer good at it," joked Dheeraj Gobburu, a team member.

The Knights will compete against teams from Ames, Omaha and Kansas City, as well as Des Moines' Elite Cricket Club. The goal is to gather eight teams so the Cricket League of Iowa can apply for United States Cricket Association membership.

To promote their sport, the Knights are offering free coaching to anyone who wants to learn about cricket. The team is also interested in hosting matches to raise money for charity.