Cal cricket, UC Berkeley’s club cricket team, won the Division II National Collegiate Cricket Association National Championship on March 25, defeating the University of Houston by nine wickets. The Cougars went 108-9 through 15 overs. The Bears then went 113-1 through 13 overs to bring the trophy back to Berkeley for the first time in Cal cricket history.
Team captain Rishi Arjun and vice captain Jainil Ajmera selected 12 players from the club’s squad of 35 active members to travel to the tournament in Prairie View, Texas. In the qualifying group stage, Cal beat Rutgers and Yale on March 23 before losing to UCLA the following day.
The loss to the Bruins set up a do-or-die final qualifying game against Purdue, which the Bears won by six wickets to move on to a semifinal game against UC San Diego. Dominant bowling saw Cal to a four-wicket victory over the Tritons. Then, just hours later, Cal beat Houston to become national champions.
“This was the most closely knit group of players I’ve ever seen in a team,” Arjun said. “As a captain, I never got any issues of ‘Why am I not batting this high?’ or ‘Why am I not getting this many overs’… all they cared about was winning.”
The Bears boasted the two best batsmen in the tournament. Tournament MVP Aakash Sundaresen recorded the most runs, 227, in the tournament and was closely followed by Shankara Srikantan in second place with 221. Sundaresen also recorded the most wickets across the tournament with 10. Srikantan and fellow all-rounder Sourav Kumar also finished in the top five of the MVP rankings.
Great individual play complemented mental and physical preparation, which ultimately made the difference in the decisive Purdue qualifying match.
“(The night before) we had a nice, proper team dinner. We were like, ‘Everyone, we’re going to sleep early tonight,’ ” Arjun said. “ ‘This is the most important day in Cal Cricket history because … one good day of cricket could lead us to the national championship.’ And that’s exactly what happened. And I think everyone really bought into the philosophy.”
A shocking loss to UCLA in last year’s Pacific Regionals tournament provided some extra motivation. This season, the team held many more indoor nets sessions, intersquad matches and practice matches against local cricket clubs at the club’s “home ground” — Hilltop Park in Richmond, which is a 20-minute drive from campus.
Just like the “home ground” moniker, the Cal cricket “club” title is also misleading: The organization does not enjoy the recognition of a club sport under Berkeley Recreational Sports.
This means that the team is entirely self-funded. A sponsorship from Bay Area consulting firm, Altius Strategic Consulting, club dues and fundraisers, including an on-campus, bi-annual “Tennis Ball Tournament” aimed at introducing members of the campus community to the sport, are its only current sources of revenue.
A substantial portion of each squad member’s club dues goes towards Uber carpools, which they use to get to and from BART stations when commuting for practices.
Just five years after its founding in 2018, the team has already won its first national championship. The natural next step is advocating for recognition as a club sport, Ajmera said, which would relieve some of the fundraising burden and potentially make campus facilities available to the squad.
“That’s probably the number one thing that we are looking to do now,” Ajmera said. “It’s definitely been a challenge up until now. But thankfully, because we’ve had people who were very committed to trying to help the sport grow on campus, it made slow progress, incremental progress over the years and we’re looking to continue doing that over the coming years.”