Vijaya Kumar Yajjala and the Omaha Cricket ClubDec 30, 2021 11:50AM ● By Chris Hatch
Those interested in a new adventure should follow the serpentine, cursive bend of the Missouri river down to NP Dodge Park.
At the right time, one might stumble upon a hidden gem of Omaha: NP Dodge Cricket Park, a state-of-the-art cricket facility that has become a second home for Vijaya Kumar Yajjala and his teammates on the Omaha Cricket Club.
Yajjala, who was drawn here from his native Visakhapatnam, India, by the master’s degree program in biology at University of Nebraska at Omaha over a decade ago, has watched the local cricket scene explode like a well-hit ball off his willow bat on a steamy Midwestern evening.
“I started playing in Omaha Cricket Club in 2008. When I joined, it was in the growing phase where we had only two teams in Nebraska (one from Omaha and one from Lincoln) and we used to play a game or two over the weekend.” Yajjala said.
Bashkar Setti, the commissioner of the Omaha Cricket Club since the late 1990s, has been watching his beloved game expand right alongside Yajjala. “When I came here in 1995 there [were] two teams. And there is currently more than 20 teams in the Omaha area.”
When Yajjala first arrived in Nebraska, he saw similarities between the passion of his native countrypeople for their fiery dusk-til-dawn love of cricket and the equally die-hard belief in Nebraska that when one gazes up at Memorial Stadium, they are looking at holy land—and he found comfort in that love of sports.
“I, like most Indians, am a huge cricket fan. Cricket was in fact my first love, as we used to play day-in day-out with siblings, friends, and other family members. Cricket is on those same lines like American football, as we got it from our parents and uncles who played/watched and created that interest for us. Cricket is like a religion for us.” Yajjala said.
Setti knows where some of Yajjala’s love of the game comes from. “I remember him coming for the first year to try out the batting cages. Such a hard worker. He loved the game. Later I found out where that love came from: I had the opportunity and the privilege to talk to his dad, when he came to visit America. That’s when I realized where the passion came from. His dad is a very good cricket player and he has so much passion and love for the game.”
Cricket, for Yajjala, was the game that he was raised on and the game that he wanted to raise up.
In the sport, and in his adopted home, he was able to find kindred spirits.
“Playing for the club definitely helped me know more people from our country as well as from other countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh,” Yajjala said.
Nebraska might have been his first time to the United States, but he quickly found himself in love with the diverse foods and the people who were significantly warmer than the prairie winds that gust through the city streets. He learned that cricket would serve as an ambassador to his new home, allowing him to find comfort in Nebraska.
“It [cricket] has also introduced us to the city more, as we had collaboration with city parks, who helped us with the grounds and their maintenance and, on occasions, [park employees] used to pitch the first ball of our tournaments. Sport is great in itself as it can bring people from two different thought processes or regions or religions and make them form a band of brothers and fight for a common cause of winning a game or developing a sport. All the great friends I have, including my best friend, Mr. Bhaskar Krishna, are the perks of playing cricket and bonding for years in this Omaha cricket club.”
It was in Krishna, the leader of the Omaha Cricket Club, that Yajjala was able to find a willing and able cricket co-conspirator.
“I have seen the club go through tough times when we had floods where the ground was under water but we, under Bhaskar’s leadership, rebuilt it not once but many times; not losing hope and keeping our passion alive for the sport and making sure we are able to help develop the sport.” Yajjala said.
Setti, for his part, is equally effusive in his praise for Yajjala. “If you want to do a story about someone in the current time: he’s the guy,” Setti said. “He joined me about 10-12 years back and he started to help me. We went to 25-30 schools around the Omaha area and we donated cricket sets to the schools and introduced cricket to…more than 6,000 kids.”
Now working at Merck Animal Health, still calling Omaha home, Yajjala is putting his cricket skills to good use as a scientist.
“Playing the game helped me more with how to keep yourself calm and composed when you have a tough situation, how to handle pressure, the way we handle tough situations in the game which could be used in real life scenarios. Cricket has science to it...the trajectory and angle, etc., but it is more of an art, if you master it you will be real good.”
The cricket field has no foul territory. There are 360 degrees of opportunity.
If you make contact, the ball can be hit anywhere, which means for Yajjala and the future of this growing sport: everything is in play.