Every Sunday from April to October, a several-centuries-old tradition meets a new-world ritual on playing fields from Santa Clara to Marin County. For eight hours some of Silicon Valley's top knowledge workers alternate hurling and thwacking balls across a 22-yard pitch of freshly mowed grass. It's the height of the season for the 26 teams in the Northern California Cricket Association (NCCA) -- and players are decked out in white duck trousers, white wool vests, and white, floppy canvas hats to bowl, bat, and take afternoon tea.
Tea? Cricket? Indeed. Once the domain of homesick British and Australian expatriates, California cricket has exploded as talent-hungry computer companies have lured thousands of Indian and Pakistani engineers -- who grew up with the game -- to Silicon Valley. The growth in cricket clubs mirrors the growth of the players' high-tech employers: Oracle, Netscape, Sun Microsystems. In 1993 there were 16 teams in the NCCA http://www.ncalcricket.org ; this spring the league will expand to include double that number. At the same time, cucumber sandwiches have given way to vegetarian curries at teatime, and the teams resemble a subcontinental United Nations, with players from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as well as the West Indies and Australia.
Sridhar Ranganathan, star fast bowler (pitcher) for the Santa Clara Cricket Club (SCCC), is typical of the new breed of Silicon Valley cricketers. He grew up playing the game on the streets of Bombay before earning a BS in engineering at the city's university. From there he went on to get an MS in computer science from Villanova University and then an MBA from Berkeley (while working full-time at Xerox). A year ago he launched a startup that makes software to integrate computers and television.
For Ranganathan, 32, cricket not only links him to a rich network of engineering talent (95% of SCCC's members hold engineering degrees); it also offers a gratifying mix of competition and community. "It's half sport, half social occasion," he says. League games are fierce -- teams battle it out in a round-robin until the playoffs in late September -- but the SCCC's 55 members seem to spend as much time together at parties, picnics, and outings as on the field. And, true to their engineering roots, team members debate everything from game strategy to groundskeeping on an email list and maintain a club Web site http://www.best.com/~srikar/sccc with schedules, player bios, and cricket links.
Still, it seems an unlikely combination. Cricket is defined by deep-rooted traditions, elaborate rules, and an emphasis on "civilized" sportsmanship: "it's not cricket" translates as "it's not fair." Information Age engineers don't stand on ceremony -- and are known for breaking more rules than they follow. But the players have found the critical link: wins, like killer products, are built from hundreds of small plays. "More than anything else, cricket is about consistency," explains Srinivasa "Babu" Gopaladhine, 28, an SCCC spin bowler and a hardware design engineer for Sun Microsystems's chip division. "It's about getting run after run and building toward a target. That requires endurance, patience, and long-term strategy." Sounds like the kind of talent Silicon Valley is looking for.