If you build it, they will come

Published 12:08 am Sunday, September 10, 2023

SALISBURY— Some of the most surprising things end up in unexpected places. Many American cities have baseball, football or soccer fields in their parks and neighborhoods, but few can say that they have their own regulation cricket field. Salisbury and Rowan County will soon be able to. Cricket is incredibly popular overseas in countries like India and Australia, however, the United States does not hold the same love for it as others. That doesn’t mean there still aren’t dedicated fans, even in Rowan County, that are seeking a hub so that they can meet and play their favorite sport.

Over the past few years, Jaypal Kalagiri has been on a crusade to build a cricket field closer to his home in Concord and give people in the area another location outside of Charlotte to play the game. The field is located on Glover Road near Faith roughly 30 minutes from where Kalagiri lives. Especially for him, that is not a bad commute.

“For playing cricket, I’ve seen people drive hours and hours. Last weekend, my son played games in Atlanta. So, we drove to Atlanta to play a game on Saturday and Sunday, we had to stay at a hotel,” Kalagiri said. “Cricket is growing so much through out the U.S., and even in Charlotte, we have so many teams who are ready to play, but there are not enough grounds. That’s what drove me.”

As his son started to play cricket and take it seriously, Kalagiri thought of building a field for him. “It motivated me even more to build a ground and to build some kind of facility to help him out. Along with that, help the community.”

Before he moved to the United States in 2002, Kalagiri was introduced to cricket while living in India. Like other sports, cricket is a multi-generational game that people of all ages can participate in. Cricket has a lot in common with baseball, with its own version of a pitcher, hitter and fielder. Instead of a diamond shaped field, cricket is more circular. Kalagiri was responsible for clearing the woods, building roads and a parking lot, as well as planting seeds for the grass, which is vital for cricket.

“Once the grass starts growing, that will make sure that when the players come and play, it won’t hurt them even if they fall,” Kalagiri said. “The grounds are the most important thing for any player and if it’s close by they can have more matches and even tournaments.”

The field was supposed to be done earlier in the year, but the frequent winter rain delayed development by months. Waiting for the grass to grow is one of the last things Kalagiri has to do before the field is fully operational. This was the first time he undertook a project like this. Though he was unfamiliar with rules and regulations, Rowan County have helped him through out the process after the board of commissioners approved the plan last year.

Kalagiri chose the site in Rowan County because he could not find a suitable spot in Concord. There are a small number of locations in Charlotte to play cricket at, but they are not always reliable. The entire piece of land is roughly 36 acres and the actual playing field is around four acres. Much of the woods have been cut down, but there is still a barrier of trees that provides plenty of privacy for players. In total, Kalagiri estimates he has invested nearly three quarters of a million dollars into everything. 

The field was constructed to have its diameter be large enough to host different formats of cricket. Kalagiri says there is one called T20 that can last two-and-a-half to three hours, T30 can last four-and-a-half to five hours, and T40 can lasts up to six hours. There are no lights on the premises, so games will only be played during daylight hours.

Besides the county showing their support, the people living nearby the field have also been welcoming to what has been going with some coming to the public hearing. Kalagiri and his wife knocked on all their neighbors doors to speak with them personally about the project.

“To let them know what’s happening here, just to give them an understanding on what’s happening here because we don’t want them to be on the dark side. That’s the reason we wanted to communicate, we wanted to provide as much communication as possible,” Kalagiri said. “If you have a neighbor, you want to make sure you have a good relationship with them…Ultimately, this will improve the overall area, too. We wanted to increase the value of the property through out.”

Kalagiri is hopeful that by sometime in the fall, the field will be ready enough to play an exhibition game before it gets too cold. “If the temperature is in the 20s or 30s, it’s going to hurt them because the ball is very, very hard, the cricket ball. It’s a little bit harder than a baseball,” Kalagiri said. He is currently looking at forming an independent committee that will schedule games for people, but will not be in charge of creating competitive leagues. If someone started a league they can use the field by reserving a spot beforehand to avoid overlap. “We don’t want to have any clashes.”

Kalagiri has high expectations for the field once it is completed. He has heard from cricket enthusiasts that will take advantage of it over the weekends once the weather warms up next spring. When figuring out a name, Kalagiri is leaning towards ARK Field, named after his two kids. This cricket field goes beyond Kalagiri’s admiration for the sport, it’s an opportunity for people to reconnect to where they are from and maybe make someone pick up a bat that they’ve probably never held before.

“Cricket is my passion and my family loves it…There was a lot of investment in this. Mainly because we wanted to bring people together and it helps through out this area, too,” Kalagiri said. “If you have more grounds, you have more people coming, practicing, and playing the game. Even if I help just a few people in the Charlotte area because of this ground, I’ll be the happiest person in the world.”