In the middle of the small town of Siquirres, about 25 young Ticos run around a grassy field. You might expect them to be playing soccer, the nation’s most popular sport. But they’re not playing soccer – they’re playing cricket, the English game played with wickets, a ball, and a bat.
“Many people don’t realize that cricket is the second most-watched sport in the world,” says Richard Illingworth, president of the Costa Rica Cricket Association. “I would say its popularity has doubled in Costa Rica every year for the past five years.”
This Saturday, the organization will host its Cricket Exhibition in San José, showcasing both veteran players and teenage Costa Ricans from across the country. While the event will only last one day, organizers anticipate upwards of 1,000 spectators.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the exhibition is the debut of young cricket players enrolled in new after-school programs. Thanks to support from the International Cricket Council and an army of volunteers, Costa Rican teenagers are now signing up for practices, formal games, and even a cricket camp hosted by EARTH University. The program has been particularly popular in the province of Limón, cultivating both male and female players. Illingworth estimates that about 700 young Costa Ricans have played the game at some point, and scores of them play regularly.
The Tico Times visited the town of Siquirres in Limón Province to talk with coach Freddy Morales and some of his young protégés.
Cricket has a long and storied history in the region: The game arrived in Costa Rica with Jamaican railroad workers in the late 19th century, and their teams were enormously popular for decades. During World War II, amateur players found difficulty finding gear, because most padding and bats were manufactured in war-torn Britain. The game might have become extinct altogether, were it not for the Cricket Association and a handful of diehard fans.
From the looks of it, a whole new generation is picking up the bat.
The Cricket Exhibition takes place Aug. 23 in the National Gymnasium, La Sabana Park. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Free. Info: Cricket Association website.