Like many Auburn students, Naveenan Thiagarajah will be headed to sunny Florida for spring break. But instead of lounging in the sand, Thiagarajah and friends will be sweating it out on the cricket pitch.
Team captain Thiagarajah will lead the newly chartered Auburn University Cricket club in its season opener against 18 other teams in the 2010 American College Cricket Championships in Ft. Lauderdale March 17 -21.
"The national championships will be a good reality check for us," said Thiagarajah, graduate student in electrical engineering.
The club will face its most experienced opponents to date, including exhibition matches against the University of the West Indies and the U.S. under 19 World Cup team, though the players feel confident in their abilities, experience and track record.
The team has been playing together since 2006, when it first represented Auburn in the Vanderbilt Cricket Tournament.
The cricket club made it to the semifinals in its first outing as a team and its record only improved since that time, going undefeated in the 2009 Bulldawg Championship hosted by
Mississippi State University. Last year marked another milestone for the maturing club when it hosted the first Tiger Cup at the intramural fields. It became the team's second inter-university tournament victory of the season. The championships in Ft. Lauderdale will be webcast on ESPN 360 starting at the semifinals level, but the AU Cricket club will not face any of its familiar regional opponents. Ahmed Faraz, graduate student in electrical engineering, said the championship will be a welcome change for many reasons. The invitational's where the AU club cut its teeth were limited by a lack of proper facilities and equipment by many of the participating universities.
The lack of regulation protective gear meant teams had to play with a tennis ball covered in electrical tape to give it weight, a safer approximation of the standard leather ball.
The club's new charter includes insurance coverage that allows the team to play at the more dangerous national level and on a properly maintained field. The championships also provide medical personnel, removing some responsibility from club member Shaik Shoieb, graduate student in electrical engineering and the cricketers' unofficial doctor. Shoieb contributed sports medicine experience in the past from training he received while wrestling when he was younger. The club hopes to expand its presence on campus this season. Aside from the high profile of the national championships, the club will host a campus tournament open to all students in April. There are also plans for all-ages cricket workshops in the summer to raise awareness of the sport and to promote diversity within its ranks. The current club members, who are predominantly from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, were raised on cricket and would like to see the sport take root in new soil. "The way people are crazy about football here, people are crazy about cricket there," said Sameer Shah, graduate student in mechanical engineering.
Club practices are Saturdays and Sundays at the intramural fields at 2 p.m. and open to all.