Seattle Cricket Club

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Seattle PI Article






Seattle PI Article

Friday, April 11, 2003

Cricket team makes a pitch to save the pitch


TUKWILA -- It's a beautiful spring afternoon, and the field at Fort Dent Park is filling with animated men strapping on heavy white leg pads, padded gloves and sturdy helmets. Others are practicing bowling hard red balls at speeds up to 75 miles an hour. The team captain has driven all the way from Bellingham to join his teammates.

It's the weekly practice of one of the region's oldest cricket teams, and the field is a mini-United Nations: Players originally hail from India, Jamaica, Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, England, the West Indies and elsewhere.

Marysville resident Muslim Habib of the Seattle Cricket Club bats during a match at Fort Dent Park in Tukwila. At left is wicketkeeper Eric Favorite.

But cricket play on the Fort Dent pitch, or field -- which its supporters call the finest in the area -- will soon be suspended as millions are spent on soccer and softball improvements to the park. The players fear that when the improvements are done, they'll be relegated to what is a small shadow of their now-glorious pitch.

The Fort Dent team is the only one in the Seattle area to play in a competitive league with teams from British Columbia, according to club president Vipul Shah. The team has played at Fort Dent for more than 25 years and has spent tens of thousands of dollars developing and maintaining the pitch, say Shah and team secretary Bunti Sarai.

There are several other pitches in the area, including one at Marymoor Park near Redmond, but none of the same quality.

"Right now, we have the Mecca of cricket in Seattle," Sarai said. But he fears that won't be true once the park is redeveloped. His team, he said, may well be relegated to a strip between two artificial turf fields in the plan for the park.

"It's such a shame, because this is such a beautiful ground," he said. "Cricket is all about grass."

But the private, non-profit company spearheading park improvements for the city of Tukwila says the players needn't worry. They are attempting to accommodate the team, said Chris Slatt, president and chief executive officer of Starfire Sports.

"We believe there is an area for a cricket field," Slatt said. "I think there's roughly about the same amount of area. We're waiting for some of the details."

Fort Dent is being redeveloped under a unique public-private partnership between Tukwila and Starfire, which thus far has cultivated a very low public profile.

The park had been a part of the King County system, which mothballed it to help close a major budget deficit. The county then signed it over to Tukwila, which had the backing of Starfire, says Bruce Fletcher, the city's parks and recreation director.

Without Starfire's help, Tukwila couldn't pay the estimated $500,000 yearly it costs to maintain and operate the park, Fletcher said.

"We didn't have that kind of dough, like other cities," Fletcher said. "Then enters Starfire Sports, a non-profit group. The only way we could make it happen was public-private partnerships. Once we'd (identified) this willing group, the city then accepted transfer of the property."

The company is planning a $6 million redevelopment of Fort Dent, he said, adding five new synthetic fields that allow year-round play, two indoor soccer arenas and improvements to the softball fields.

The focus will be on making the park a premier regional training ground and family soccer facility accessible to all community members, regardless of ability to pay, Fletcher said.

"That's going to be wonderful," he said. "I'm just jumping up and down a group like Starfire would invest in something like this."

Slatt declined to discuss his company in detail. He is the co-founder and former chairman and chief executive of WatchGuard Technologies Inc., an Internet security firm. He left WatchGuard in October to work with Starfire, which he founded "to foster athletic development and educational opportunities for children," according to a WatchGuard news release.

"We're a non-profit company that's committed to keeping Fort Dent Park open," Slatt said. "It's a beautiful park .... We just thought it was terrible this park was going to be closed."

He added that he is convinced that team sports are invaluable in helping young people grow and develop.

The minutes of the Nov. 4 meeting of the Tukwila City Council say construction and maintenance at the park are expected to be "funded entirely by charitable contributions. Mr. Slatt and his partners are very confident of their ability to secure all the funding required to make this a first-class operation."

Meanwhile, the cricket team at Fort Dent must begin playing somewhere else by the end of the month so work can begin on the park. The team has reached an agreement with the city of Renton to play games there. But it can't stay there long term -- the field it will use is destined to become a baseball diamond, said team captain Bunti Sondhi.

Because the team won't be there for long, it can't invest the thousands it would take to make it into a proper cricket pitch. Because of that, it has had to cancel all home games with teams from British Columbia.

"It would be nice to keep this ground," Sondhi said.

It's not that he doesn't love soccer -- nearly all the cricket players are fond of the game -- but there should be room for some sporting diversity, he said. The Seattle area now has nine clubs, boasting 14 teams.

"A lot of teams play cricket here," he said. "It's grown big."

For cricket player Mike Sachar, the game is a great leveler for the region, fostering cultural exchange and friendship between very different groups of people.

He'd hate for the local community to lose that.

"Everybody just comes together," he said.

"It's not like we're black, white or green. All the nationalities are together."


  • Cricket is one of the most popular sports on the planet, particularly in former British colonies such as India and Australia. Other nations with cricket fever include Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, the West Indies, and, of course, England.

  • The basic game involves two teams alternately using a small ball to try to knock down sets of wickets (three tall stakes with two sticks lying on top) at either end of a pitch, or field, while the other team attempts to defend the wicket by batting the ball and scoring runs in the process.

  • Many modern cricket matches are played in a day, but international, or "test," matches last five days.

  • The earliest known game of cricket on land that became the United States took place on a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1709, according to Amar Singh, secretary of the C.C. Morris Cricket Library at Haverford University outside Philadelphia.

  • One of George Washington's soldiers wrote in his diary of playing a game of "wickets" in 1778 at Valley Forge.

  • Cricket is the second-oldest intercollegiate sport in this country. (The first was a crew race between Harvard and Yale.)

P-I reporter Elaine Porterfield can be reached at 206-870-7851 or



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