When Chirag Vani, 27, stepped onto the field for the title match at the American College Cricket national championship last month, he and the rest of the UMBC cricket club were confident.
"We had won the Mid-Atlantic Regional last year, so we had momentum going forward," Vani said. "We were confident that we had a very good team this year. It wasn't really a surprise, but everything came together at the right time."
UMBC emerged victorious, defeating South Florida by five wickets in the final in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Vani, who plays wicketkeeper and batsman, hopes the growth of the national championships — from approximately 10 teams in the inaugural tournament in 2009 to 28 this year — helps the sport gain recognition.
"I think it's a great thing going forward, and as it becomes more and more popular I'm hoping it'll be just like March Madness, where everyone knows it," Vani said.
The sport hasn't reached the frenzy that is the NCAA men's basketball tournament just yet, but cricket has been catching on around the UMBC campus after the win.
"The students have recognized it. I've [run] into people on campus who didn't know it existed and who were very excited that it did," said Vani, who has been a part of the club since it began in 2004 and currently plays as an alumnus after completing undergraduate and graduate degrees from the university in 2007 and 2010, respectively. "They were asking where the new matches were going to be so they could come watch."
The club, which plays in the Washington Cricket League, encourages everyone on campus to give the sport — at least modified versions — a try.
"We play with the leather ball, which is pretty hard for newbies … so we try to play with the tennis ball on the field in front of the library to get more people to see and have fun," Vani said. "We get a bat and hit it around just so people can get a feel for it."
TV Asia will air UMBC's semifinal win against Ohio State at 7 p.m. April 14 and its championship victory against South Florida at 7 p.m. April 21.