When asked to describe a cricket ball, Vijay Parthasarathy morphs into a dealer at Sotheby's, admiringly pointing out its four-piece leather cover, hand stitched with cotton strands, and the layers of wool thread bundled tightly around the ball's cork center. "This is lovely," says Parthasarathy, staring at a well-worn game ball like it was a precious object. "There is no more fun than this."
For someone who seems content just to hold a cricket ball, the chance to actually play the sport he loves on a regular basis has put Parthasarathy into the stratosphere.
The Indian-born student is the president and founder of the increasingly popular Johns Hopkins University Cricket Club, an enthusiastic and burgeoning group of mostly foreign-born graduate students.
Today, the JHU Cricket Club, a member of the university's Graduate Representative Organization, acts as an organizing entity for recreational tennis ball cricket on the Homewood campus, viewings of professional and World Cup cricket match telecasts and one-day semiformal cricket matches against some of the leading clubs in the Baltimore-Washington area.
The club currently boasts some 80 members, a majority of whom hail from the cricket-playing nations of India, England, Australia and Pakistan.
Parthasarathy, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering, says that when he arrived here in fall 1999, cricket was considered an undergraduate recreational sport, played mostly on Homewood's upper quad and run by the Student Activities Council. Wanting a more organized and formal structure, Parthasarathy and some friends pursued the creation of a club, which eventually joined the GRO in 2001.
Since then, according to Parthasarathy, cricket at Johns Hopkins has been a whole new ball game.
"My friend Amit Paliwal and I used to dream of these things happening here," says Parthasarathy of the increased membership and the playing of professional level matches. "And now it's all come true."
While the club plays throughout the year, its most prodigious period is the summer. On any given weekday night or weekend afternoon, members gather in the upper quad to practice or play a recreational match.
To protect both people and property, the club uses a tennis ball on campus instead of the stonelike, bruise-inducing cricket ball. The rules for the on-campus version remain roughly the same as formal cricket [see sidebar], with a few idiosyncracies thrown in. In place of one wicket, the club uses a tin can. For boundaries, the club uses campus buildings. For example, if a batted ball skirts past the pillars in front of Mergenthaler and Remsen halls, the batsman gets four runs, six runs if it crosses the pillars in the air.
Depending on the number of participants, the upper quad matches often feature plenty of running around, as the balls, seemingly with a mind of their own, can travel in every direction.
The practice sessions for the club's regular matches are held under the lights at Homewood Field. Typically the team will dress in formal cricket whites and don full protective gear, which consists of chest guards, arm guards, leg pads, helmets and gloves.
In March, the club hosted live telecasts of the International Cricket Council's World Cup matches. Several of the televised matches, which were played in South Africa, drew more than 200 diehard fans to Levering's E-level, some of whom painted their faces in their home country's colors.
The overwhelming majority of the cricket club members come from India, where, they say, the sport borders on "religion." According to club players, the nation's premier batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, is to cricket what David Beckham is to soccer -- and is treated like a god.
"No one grows up in India without at least playing some form of cricket at some point in time," says Pramodsingh Thakur, a graduate student in biomedical engineering and one of the team's best bowlers.
Says Parthasarathy of cricket in India, "It's huge, like soccer is to Brazil."
Amit Paliwal, the club's treasurer and a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering, says that the existence of a formal cricket team at Johns Hopkins fills a void for many international students. He says that even those who don't play like just to come out and watch.
"For me and my friends, [cricket] is a way through which we connect to India," Paliwal says. "It sure feels like home when we are out on the field. For many of us, the club has become family."
Thakur said that when he came to Johns Hopkins in 2000, he heard about the club as most do, simply through word of mouth.
"Back then, it was very small, very informal," he says. "It was just a bunch of people playing mostly tennis-ball cricket on the upper quad, and occasionally playing with the leather ball on the lacrosse field. The club has grown a lot in the past two years, with lots of enthusiastic students joining."
Since 2001, the club has played professional-level exhibition matches, mostly against teams from the 29-year-old Washington Cricket League. To date, the club's list of opponents, who often host the games, includes the Baltimore Cricket Club, the British Officers Cricket Club and the Maryland Cricket Club.
How has Johns Hopkins fared? More than held its own.
In 2002, the club played 10 matches against area teams and won half its contests. So far this year, the team has won three out of five matches and been competitive in each.
Parthasarathy says that the club considered joining a league but realized it would be too difficult to play on the weekends due to the players' academic schedules.
"But we are now trying to get into some tournaments, hopefully some later this year," he says. "This has been a great outlet for people, whether they want to play just for fun on the campus, or semiformally against league teams. And who knows? Maybe someday we'll have club members playing on the U.S National Cricket Team."
The ways some players regularly launch tennis balls over Mergenthaler Hall, he might be right.
For more information about the JHU Cricket Club and a schedule of upcoming games, go to www.cs.jhu.edu/~haridas/JHUCC.