On a muggy Sunday morning in September, the Prairie View Cricket Complex made its debut with a set of three games. It was a disjointed affair on a grass lot still damp from recent rains. Some players weren’t sure where to park their cars, and officials showed up for only two of the matches.
Not that such obstacles much mattered. The players, mostly of Indian and Pakistani origin, were accustomed to imperfect conditions. As kids they’d played in tiny spaces on unlevel ground, with multiple games often taking place at the same time on the same field. And as adults in the Houston area, they’d continued to play, but on grounds meant for other sports. There just aren't many cricket fields here, or elsewhere in the U.S. for that matter.
So while it was still a work in progress, the Prairie View complex, off Highway 290 north of town, was a welcome sight. And it was only the beginning: By 2019 the place may be the largest facility of its kind in America.
“There is nothing of this magnitude in the U.S.,” said Tanweer Ahmed, the man behind the effort. “I intend it to be the largest one.”
While cricket’s popularity is growing, it has yet to catch on seriously in America. The sport may look like baseball, but the two have little in common. Cricket rules can be confusing to newbies; adding to that, the game has multiple formats, three of which are played professionally. None of this fazes Ahmed. He believes cricket will soon achieve widespread popularity in this country, and that his complex will play an important role in making that happen.
Ahmed moved to California from Pakistan in 1988, landing in Houston in 2007 and, along the way, becoming an entrepreneur in restaurant franchising, energy, and medical research. It was a couple of years ago that, after being prodded by friends, he started playing cricket again, installing a small practice field at his Westfield-area office and joining the Houston Cricket League.
At the time, despite the city’s ever-growing Indian and Pakistani populations, the HCL lacked dedicated cricket facilities. Its best fields were Katy school district property, and access was restricted during the week. Realizing this, Ahmed decided he wanted to build his own grounds. In January he purchased about 70 acres, combining them with a neighboring plot of 16 acres that he already owned—while it’s unknown what he’s spent on the project so far, the number is certainly in the millions—and started designing his dream.
The scope of the complex is up in the air for now. Plans call for anywhere from eight to 13 regulation-sized fields, plus a separate stadium that could seat from 5,000 to 30,000 people while offering plenty of parking and food-vendor spaces. And while there’s no exact timeline for completion, the four fields operable as of September are already well-used by the Houston Cricket League, which has 28 teams over three divisions.
On that first day of competition, players sat in lawn chairs and on bleachers during the games. Nanda Kumar, former HCL president, showed impressive power, striking a ball past the outfield for a six-run tally, the most runs a player can score in one turn at bat. Afterward he chatted with Houstonia.
The game’s popularity in Houston is growing so much, he said, that the city can now host big tournaments and youth camps. “One of the main advantages to having a grounds like this is we can have the four-day tournaments, for adults or kids,” he said. That means a demand for hotel rooms and nearby amenities, he continued. “This will make a big difference.”
Attracting young players is key to the Prairie View effort. The HCL runs a network of youth cricket leagues, and some of those kids have graduated to adult competitions. Ahmed would like to introduce the sport to local schools and universities, too. To that end, he’s started a nonprofit, Kalsoom Prairie View Cricket Association, named for his mother. He also wants to involve the community by offering volunteer opportunities.
One day soon, Ahmed envisions the project reaching completion, the fields filling with thousands on Sunday mornings as cars driving along 290 hop off the highway to take a closer look.
“Let’s say 100,000 cars drive by. What if 100 people out of that 100,000 start looking into introducing cricket to their kids,” Ahmed said. “That’s why I’m pretty optimistic about having a facility that’s open to everybody here.”