Domestic Cricket,  Shawon Dunston,  Training

Reza Khan: Cricket, the Cubs, and the Bay Area

Cricket is very much in the DIY -- "do it yourself" -- phase of its growth in this country. There's not a whole lot of existing infrastructure in terms of stadiums, developmental leagues, dedicated training facilities, etc. And there's no real established roadway for becoming involved with cricket in the US. If you want to be a part of what the sport is hoping to become, you pretty much have to carve out your own path. And Reza Khan has been doing just that. He's been the driving force behind the North America Cricket League; he's played a key role in Minor League Cricket's Silicon Valley Strikers; and he's just opened up a 6,000-square-foot indoor training facility in San Jose, California.

"I was born in 1976. My dad's a doctor and he was practicing medicine in Iran, but we are originally from India. I was a huge fan of cricket -- listening to cricket commentary on the radio and watching cricket on TV. In 1982, my dad goes, 'Hey, let's go on vacation.' So, we go on a family vacation to California. We do the whole Disneyland thing. We visited Universal Studios. And then my dad goes, 'Hey, why don't I just stay back and try to restart my medicine here? Why don't you guys go back to India?' So, we went back to India. Fast forward to 1986. We arrived in Chicago and my dad gets an apartment. The place is barely furnished. The whole living room is empty, so my dad put a little TV there. I'm in a brand-new country. I have no friends. I turn on the TV and, voila, there's WGN…and the Chicago Cubs. And I'm like, 'What game is this?' And so, by myself, I start pretending. I see (Cubs' legend) Ryan Sandberg hit the ball and I'm running back and forth, taking singles, taking doubles. When he hits a home run, it's kind of like a six and when he hits a double, it's kind of like a four. And I'm doing the Indian commentary and, just as a kid, I literally sat there and learned the game of baseball because of cricket."

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An appreciation for baseball didn't mean he'd lost interest in cricket, though. But keeping up to date with his favorite sport wasn't easy. "There was no cricket on TV or anything. I used to love going to the grocery store with my dad because I used to pick up the newspaper -- India Times or something. So, I followed cricket through that. Talking to cousins back home helped. They're keeping you updated. I was a big Indian cricket team fan, but I didn't have the tools to follow cricket as much as I could."

His family moved around the US and finally settled in northern California. "That love for cricket that I had as a kid transferred to Chicago, then to New York, and that fire was still in me in California." And it was in California, after graduating high school, that Reza would finally get to play some cricket -- even if that meant making regular 100-plus mile roundtrips to go wherever the game was being played. Reza spent the nineties piling up the numbers on his car's odometer and making valuable cricket connections, but by 2000, life was starting to get in the way. He got married, started a family, and it looked like his cricketing adventures in the US were coming to an end.

Fast forward to 2020. Ironically, it was during the pandemic -- a time when most things were grinding to a halt -- that Reza's cricket life was rekindled. "I live in a townhouse. So, we would literally -- like four or five of us -- play pickup cricket in front of my door. Then we got like six or seven more and we said, 'Hey, why don't we take this game to the basketball court?'  In my townhouse, we have a basketball court so, during the pandemic, we started playing pickup cricket. And soon everybody's like, 'Hey, we're getting too big for this. Why don't we go to a local park?' So, we went to the local park and we started playing. And next thing you know, a couple of neighborhood kids came along. It kind of reminded me of that movie Sandlot."

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Those pickup games eventually turned into the North America Cricket League. "I made myself a promise back when I was in Chicago as a kid. If I'm ever able to open up a cricket league or do something major in cricket, I would do it. When you're passionate about the game and you make a promise, you remember that stuff."

The NACL started with six teams and now has almost 50. ("We're at 44 teams and people are fighting to get into our league.") Meanwhile, Reza was continuing to make his mark on the local cricket scene. "I'm helping anything related to cricket in the Bay Area. I'm talking about laying out boundaries. I'm talking about rolling. I'm talking about cutting the grass. At that time, the minor league was going on. There was a team called Silicon Valley Strikers, so I joined that league as a manager."

"I would arrange practices. One time, I remember driving from San Jose to Davis, which is almost two and a half hours, because they forgot stumps. They had a festival called Morgan Hill Festival. I brought my whole league. At this point, I'm at 33 or 34 teams. Literally, I said, if you wanna play in NACL, you gotta show up to this festival. I'd say, 'Hey, let's support minor league. In return, they'll support us.' And they did support us, to be honest with you. We went to a minor league festival and these local tennis ball cricketers got to play cricket with Unmukt Chand and Shehan Jayasuriya."

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So, how does running a successful cricket league turn into opening up a 6,000 square foot indoor training facility?

"We go from 33 teams to 39 teams and then we go to 44 teams. And I am talking to one of my captains and he goes, 'Dude, I see your passion. You're freaking nuts. We need an indoor cricket facility. Why don't you give back to cricket?' So, for a year, we're looking for facilities. We submit applications with the city of Fremont. So much red tape. We look at Pleasanton, Union City. Finally, we find a place in old town San Jose. And it all comes together."

And, as always, he's trying to keep it local and grow the game. "I could have gotten the nets from England, India, or wherever. I came up with an idea. I'm gonna get a local guy. I am gonna support a local business guy. So, I went to the local batting cages guy, and I got the nets from there. And now he wants to know about cricket. He wants to know what cricket is."

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The future of American cricket looks bright to Reza -- not only at the local level, but also at the national and international levels. "When you see local cricketers like Saurabh Netravalkar -- seeing their struggles, seeing him participating with Silicon Valley Strikers and him doing so well in Major League Cricket, it kind of makes me go, 'Whoa, that's my guy. I know that guy. That guy is a local cricketer!' Seeing his journey -- the guy plays cricket during the day, does his IT job during the night, and then trains in the middle. I don't know how he does it. But it's that passion. It's that itch."

And Reza credits that same passion for cricket for his success and for quieting those who may have doubted him. "A lot of ideas fizzle out, so they thought I would fizzle out. They didn't know I'm a crazy maniac who needs therapy for cricket!"

The NACL Sports Center is located at 1111 Felipe Avenue in San Jose, California.

© Steinberg 2024


  • Nishath Kirmani ali

    Raza bhai, happy to learn about this venture of yours..Faaqer is sure proud of you and your achievement …he’s sure smiling up there..Good luck in tons more success to come

    • Thomas

      Congrats to Reza and all the teams and supporters.
      I’m very happy to have Reza as a friend and advisor. I will support his efforts 100%.

  • mahtilat mirza

    Reza has the Midas touch – his passion and hard work will make this venture a huge success, inshallah! What a great idea, what a great place for the youth and community to enjoy! Proud of you Reza!

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