WVU’s cricket club retains its national title this year by virtue of pandemic.

The West Virginia University cricket club defended its national championship title in March following a stunning Cinderella victory in 2019. The team won its pod, only to have the championship shut down by a certain virus—leaving WVU the national champs by default.

The club competed in the American College Cricket (ACC) national title tournament in Lauderhill, Florida, its seventh appearance in as many years, but its first time to arrive as the team to beat.

The team was ready for the challenge in the weeks leading up to its trip south. “We’re excited to defend our title,” said Sai Satish Guda, the team’s captain, before the tournament. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Each year, 32 universities compete in the American College Cricket (ACC) national tournament. During last year’s wild card run, West Virginia defeated Virginia Tech, University of Alabama–Huntsville, Ryerson University, Northeastern, and Maryland, leading up to a finals match against the New Jersey Institute of Technology. In the championship final, the team won in highly dramatic fashion: by one run. “I was like ‘Let me get this, for the team and WVU, and then I’m done. I don’t have any other goals for cricket,’” Guda says.

Last year, Sony TV telecast the finals internationally. “Getting a chance to follow our passion for cricket and playing on a stage where our games would be recorded on Sony TV is something phenomenal. Sending the link to our parents and having them watch it and be excited for us, that feeling was something so special,” says Guda, who recently completed his Ph.D. in engineering. “I think I’m speaking for all the players—we all got pretty emotional.”

After winning the trophy, Guda emailed WVU President Gordon Gee, who responded quickly with his congratulations. The team met with him in person and handed him their championship trophy. “He’s a wonderful person. Whenever I come across him now on campus, he says, ‘Hey champion! How are you doing?’ He knows who we are now,” Guda says. Gee, who sits on the ACC’s advisory board, was equally proud. “I do not know much about cricket, but I do know a great deal about Mountaineers,” said Gee. “I know they are determined to succeed and climb ever higher, so I am proud of this group of Mountaineers who achieved this goal.”

A bat-and-ball game that originated in England in the 16th century, cricket spread through the expansion of the British Empire and is now the fourth most popular sport in the world. Two teams of 11 players each take turns batting and fielding. A batsman tries to protect the wicket—three “stumps” topped by two balanced “bails”—and the bowler, or pitcher, tries to knock the bails down. Runs are scored as batsmen change places on the field based on the success of a struck ball.

The WVU cricket team formed in 1990 and joined the Pittsburgh Cricket Association in 2006. As part of the association, the team plays a regular league season from April to October. Each October, the ACC hosts a regional competition, followed by the national tournament each spring.

Most of the team’s current players are graduate students balancing the rigors of academia and sport. “For all the stress of school, cricket is something that gives us a kind of relief,” Guda says. “When we get together for practice or games, we have a lot of fun.” His teammate, fellow bowler Sai Krishna Anudeep, agrees. “If I have a good week in the classroom, I take that same intensity out to practice and in games.”

Last year’s title win spiked interest in cricket on campus. Any student, regardless of experience, can join the team. “A lot of people didn’t know we had a cricket club at WVU,” says Guda. “And now a lot of us are recognized as national champions.”

The final round of the 2020 tournament will not be rescheduled for the “near future,” the ACC says—leaving WVU the champs indefinitely.

written by David Gignilliat

image courtesy of Venkata Subba Sai Satish Guda

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