On a Saturday morning at the sprawling Perrigo Park in Redmond, Wash., kids and families were scattered across various athletic fields. Some kicked soccer balls. Others took part in a casual baseball game. And in one far corner, boys in brightly colored jerseys were bowling, batting, fielding, throwing and running as part of a four-hour contest.
The boys, most around the age of 12, were playing cricket. And they were being coached and cheered on by diehard moms and dads who grew up enjoying the sport themselves in India, and most of whom work in the tech industry.
In fact, it’s hard to escape Seattle’s burgeoning tech economy on this cloudy morning.
When asked how many kids’ parents work at nearby Microsoft, the consensus is at least 50 percent. Many of the other parents hold executive and engineering titles at companies like Amazon, AT&T, Big Fish Games and Salesforce. The names of tech sponsors such as Tech Mahindra, Codeproof Technologies Inc., and Sysgain are scrawled across jerseys.
But on this day — while hints of tech are everywhere — it’s all about cricket.
“I come from South India, and it’s just part of our daily routine,” said Sreekanth Kannepalli, a Microsoft engineering manager who coaches the Tuskers Youth Cricket Academy.
Aryan Parvatkar is 13 and has been playing cricket since he was 5 years old. The name of his dad’s company — Tech Mahindra — is on his bright yellow Tuskers’ jersey,
“I like the game, the way it’s played,” said Parvatkar, whose father serves as senior vice president and chief of business for the giant IT services and consulting company. “The passion, the aggression, all that.”
Tuskers head coach Kannepalli moved to the United States more than 10 years ago, and he’s been at Microsoft for six years. It’s a journey shared by many on the field today, an immigration wave that has transformed the Seattle area.
As of 2017, the foreign-born population in King County stood at just over 500,000, with Indian born residents representing the largest percentage at 62,021, according to U.S. Census Data compiled by The Seattle Times. Driven in part by the booming tech economy, King County’s foreign-born resident population experienced the third biggest increase among all U.S. counties during the period of 2010 to 2017.
In fact, this is the story of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella — a huge cricket fan — who was born in Hyderabad, studied computer science in the United States and later joined Microsoft in 1992.
The engineering and computer science expertise of these cricket moms and dads is on full display in the Seattle Youth Cricket League, which boasts about 100 kids playing on teams at different age levels from April to September.
The league is meticulously organized.
“Right from the get-go, how we organize the tournaments, how we divide the ages, how we get the grounds, how we manage all of that stuff — a lot of engineering thinking is in there,” said Jagan Nemani, a former entrepreneur-in-residence at Madrona Venture Labs who started the Cricket Academy of Puget Sound and helped launch the Seattle Youth Cricket League. “You can see all of the things that are being run by a spreadsheet, or code if you will.”
Growing up in India, Nemani said he wanted to play cricket. But at that point in time, there wasn’t much money in the sport. So, like many, Nemani was encouraged by his parents to pursue engineering — something he said “has been the constant dream of every Indian family.”
“All of us grew up to become engineers, and do well,” said Nemani, sharing his thoughts amid cheers for the kids on the nearby field. “But that cricket passion was in there, and suppressed. So now we are living our passion through our kids. You should look at the passion that is there on the ground. When something wrong happens, the kids don’t fight, the parents fight! We are all playing through our kids.”
Perhaps back in India the parents of those engineers can take solace in the fact that the men still use their smarts to manage everything around cricket. As an example, the league recently started live streaming the games to Facebook.
The uninitiated may see some similarities between cricket and American baseball, with teams taking turns batting and fielding. But there aren’t strikeouts or walks — the bowler instead aims to knock down wickets positioned behind the batsman. Scores are much higher, too, as balls hit out of the field on a bounce are worth four runs, and those hit on the fly are worth six.
Five years ago, Kannepalli first introduced his son to the game at age 7, starting with a tennis ball as a safer alternative to the hard, leather ball used at higher levels.
“It started off as, ‘How can I get my son and my son’s friends interested in the game?'” Kannepalli said. “We cobbled together a bunch of kids, we started teaching them the game and then they started getting more and more interested.”
Cricket is not an easy sport to play, with complex rules and nuance. But the kids quickly engaged, said Kannepalli.
“They become very interested because there are multiple roles that somebody gets to play on a team and each kid has the opportunity to exhibit their skill in different roles,” he said.
Standing around the Perrigo Park soccer field serving as a cricket pitch, the coaches and parents alternated between cheering instruction and encouragement as any parent would at a kid sporting event. They also paid close attention to the scoring on their smartphones through an app called CricClubs.
Sandeep Suri works in IT for AT&T, and while watching his son Sid on the pitch, his phone was live streaming a Cricket World Cup match between Australia and Afghanistan.
Suri grew up playing cricket — “this is baseball in India, it’s what we do” — and Sid now plays a good deal of America’s pastime, switching between cricket and baseball. Suri said the creation of the Indian Premier League, with a lot of money and recognition tied to it, offered what could someday be an interesting choice for these sons of techies.
“Most of these kids were born in the U.S., so they are dual citizens,” Suri said. “So they can go back, if they want to play in India. It’s a good career option now.”
Having found success in various tech roles and careers, the cricket mom and dads weren’t shy about their desire for their boys to find success in the sport, even though some of their own parents discouraged them from spending too much time on it as kids.
Perhaps no one was as animated on this Saturday morning as Pritam Parvatkar, the Tech Mahindra executive who sponsors the Tuskers. On nearly every play, emotion drained from this former player.
As Parvatkar sees it, there’s a special synergy between cricket and tech, on the pitch and off.
“Eleven players all have to perform to win, there is a lot of technique and strategy and thinking and planning,” Parvatkar said. And on the sidelines, with so many tech people involved, that thinking and planning translates to networking among the families.
Watching Kannepalli coach the Tuskers during a break in the action, he looks like any other manager trying to keep the focus on what’s important, especially as the kids reach for snacks and worry about how many runs have been scored. Kannepalli — who coaches alongside Damodhar Bhat and Anurag Katre — takes the lessons back to his job at Microsoft Research.
“Working with kids is an amazing learning opportunity — how you manage them effectively, make them always interested,” he said. “It relates very well to any team [at work]: How do you keep them engaged? How do your make sure they’re learning as they get engaged? How do make sure they’re approaching issues in the right manner? I bring some of my own learnings into how I manage expectations, how I influence others and so on from my work culture.”
One of the main struggles for those involved is finding space for kids to play. Parks departments generally reserve the best playing times for adults, and kids are forced to play at odd times. Northwest fields are also not ideal playing surfaces for cricket, although Marymoor Park in Redmond is set to be re-turfed and striped for the sport, according to Nemani.
The teams could also get some eventual relief when the redevelopment of the Microsoft campus is complete, as a dedicated cricket ground is set to be part of the project.
On Saturday morning, the Tuskers’ game started at 7 a.m. But setting up a temporary cricket pitch on a soccer field takes effort, with plastic cones placed at exact measurements to form the circular boundaries that are part of the playing field. A heavy plastic mat for the bowler — purchased from England — also had to be rolled out. The game lasted until 11, and from there Kannepalli was headed to his own adult-league game, which would last another eight hours.
And on Sunday the Tuskers played again at 4 in the afternoon.
“We enjoy it even though it’s that long,” Kannepalli said.
Rajesh Nanoo, a VP of engineering at Salesforce who previously spent 16 years at Amazon, was cheering on his son Roshy. He was standing with Rajesh Uthamanthil, an associate VP at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, whose son Vineeth was playing for the opposing team.
Nanoo grew up playing cricket like most of the other dads, but Uthamanthil played soccer — and he revealed his apprehension about the length of cricket matches.
As a cricket bowler, Uthamanthil’s son Vineeth is what’s known as a “spinner,” meaning he throws a slower ball that spins — sort of like a baseball pitcher with a curveball.
“A friend asked him to play four years ago and it turns out he has a natural spin. Now he’s proud of it,” Uthamanthil said. “He wanted to play, not me! This takes so much time, honestly.”
“This is our weekend!” Nanoo laughed.
Uthamanthil and his family were camping near Snoqualmie Pass and he and his son woke up at 5 a.m. to return to Redmond for Saturday morning’s game.
“I’ve been trying to give him all the options. What else do you want to play?” Uthamanthil said laughing.
But the kids — it’s about the kids, right? — clearly love it. Scarfing down sandwiches and drinks after the match they huddled around before two more teams got set to take the pitch.
Arjun Bhat, 13, was named “man of the match” for his overall contribution to the Tuskers’ victory after scoring 25 runs and three wickets. Cricket is his favorite sport, but he also plays basketball. Others around him shouted “tennis” or “football” or “soccer” or “chess” when asked what else they played.
And then Bhat raised his hand hurriedly, along with all the other boys, when asked whose dad was the biggest cricket fanatic.
GeekWire co-founder John Cook contributed to this piece.