BROOKSVILLE — Sixteen-year-old Shamir Qureshi used to be big into baseball and would play it with friends whenever he got a chance.
Then, during one of his frequent visits to Pakistan, where his mom and dad were born, Qureshi got the cricket bug and began to get into that game.
But he encountered a sticky wicket of sorts when he returned home to Brooksville and found not many of his school chums were into the odd-sounding game.
“They didn’t even know what it was,” said Qureshi, a junior at Springstead High School.
Now, not only has the teenager gotten his friends interested in the sport, he is on a mission to introduce it to everyone.
Qureshi wants to get a cricket league started in Hernando County.
“(Cricket) has been around so long,” said Qureshi, who plays both the batter and bowler positions. “It really does deserve to be in the limelight. I think it’s time.”
To that end, Qureshi and his mom, Alia, have contacted the county about setting up a dedicated field in one of the local parks that they hope will catch on and be the catalyst for a new Hernando County cricket league.
It would be preferable, he said, to playing in his backyard or using the soccer field at Anderson Snow Park in Spring Hill on the occasional Sunday.
County officials have said they are willing to work with the Qureshis, but there are obstacles.
Parks Supervisor Roy Link, in an email, said he wants to make sure there is enough interest in Hernando County for a cricket field before staffers get too far in the process.
And then there is the problem of finding a suitable site.
Assistant County Administrator for General Services Russ Wetherington said Delta Woods Park, off Deltona Boulevard in Spring Hill, would be the best place for a dedicated cricket field.
Wetherington said it is far too early to discuss costs. If the Qureshis wish to establish a cricket league, they would have to sign a agreement with the country and pay the necessary league fees. Those fees would vary depending on the field, usage and other factors.
Wetherington said he would like to see cricket become established here because it offers the community another recreational sporting alternative.
“I think it’s viable,” he said. “I’ve never played cricket but I’m familiar with it. We have to be able to adapt to the community and the community needs.”
Alia Qureshi said she and her son will meet with county officials at Delta Woods Park this week and walk around to see if it is suitable.
The nearest formal cricket fields are in Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale, so this would be the first one in the area, she said.
Shamir Qureshi, who was born in New York, said whatever field is chosen he would like the opportunity to help out in its construction as part of his Community Action and Service Project (CASS) in school.
Qureshi said he thinks there would be plenty of cricket enthusiasts in the area who would patronize the park and support a league. It’s big, he said, in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. He has friends who would travel to Hernando to play, he said.
And once started, more will likely join in, Qureshi said.
He said cricket is similar to baseball, “but it’s harder.” Unlike baseball with its diamond-shaped infield, cricket has a circular shape and the “pitch” is in the center of the circle.
There are two teams, each with 11 players. One team bats while the other team’s bowler (or pitcher) toss the cricket ball from 22 feet away and bounces the ball off the ground while trying to knock down the bails on top of a three-pronged wicket.
Meanwhile, the batsman tries to prevent the bowler from hitting the wicket by hitting the cricket ball outside the circle.
Like baseball, cricket has innings, but they are instead called “overs.”
There are more than 25,000 active cricket players who are members of more than 50 leagues and 1,100 clubs throughout the United States, according to the United States of America Cricket Association
The USACA maintains cricket was played in America long before baseball gained a foothold and became the national pastime.
Alia Qureshi said cricket is big in India, Pakistan and Great Britain and is gaining popularity in America. She believes Hernando County is ready for a cricket league and admires her son’s determination in trying to get one started.
“The friends he has made have really gotten into (the game),” she said. “He’s got them excited.”