From April to October, Pulkit Khare will spend about four and a half hours in traffic on the weekends driving to Van Nuys and back to his home in Rancho Santa Margarita.

The ardent cricket fan, who plays in the Southern California Cricket Association league, has to do the drive on the 405 Freeway to fields in the San Fernando Valley because of the lack of facilities in Orange County.

But that might change.

Earlier this month, Irvine’s City Council unanimously agreed to move forward, once again, with negotiations with American Cricket Enterprises (which runs Major League Cricket) to find a suitable location within Great Park for a 5,000-7,000-seat stadium.

The stadium was not included in the first phase of the Great Park development plans, and it follows a similar decision from the council last year which ultimately yielded no results.

It boils down to finding the right space, said Mayor Farrah Khan, whether it’s a standalone facility or a renovation of the existing Great Park soccer stadium, which can seat 5,000 people, to accommodate both sports.

“There’s definitely a growing community of cricket players and enthusiasts in Irvine and OC,” Khan said. “My hope is that we can somehow support that enthusiasm for the sport.”

The cricket body has asked for about 15 acres of land within Great Park to privately fund a stadium that would be the first of its kind in Southern California.

The stadium would be used for both major and minor league games but mostly for community events, including local cricket and non-cricket activities, said Selby Sturzenegger, director of corporate development and infrastructure at Major League Cricket.

Major League Cricket, a professional league for the shorter Twenty20 format of the sport, has already raised more than $100 million of committed capital, Sturzenegger said.

“I got goosebumps, that’s how excited I am,” Khare said about the prospect of a full-fledged cricket stadium in Orange County.

For Shantha Suraweera, a longtime local cricket advocate, the stadium is an aspiration. He helped form the Orange County Cricket Association in 2007 to promote the game, and it has now developed into a league with about 14 teams.

He then wanted to create a “pathway for youth” and formed the Southern California Youth Cricket Academy in 2014 for children between 7 and 19 years old. It has 125 players on the roster, mostly from Irvine.

The youth cricketers practice and play at the fields in Cypress Community Park, with those in the cricket community prioritizing the use for kids. Prior to the opening of those fields in 2022, Suraweera said, players would “find a flat area (in parks like the Tustin Sports Park) and then roll the grass. It’s not very safe.”

Suraweera has observed a steady rise in interest in the sport, especially among youth. With a stadium, he said, young players could improve their technique and the quality of their game.

“It’s in the initial stages like soccer 20-30 years ago, but there’s still good potential for another new sport” in the U.S., Suraweera said. “Cricket is the second most popular game in the world.”

At the highest level, too, the biggest hurdle cricketers face is the lack of infrastructure, said Michael Voss, chair of the men’s national selection panel at USA Cricket. The only stadium certified by the International Cricket Council, the sport’s global governing body, in the U.S. is in Lauderhill, Florida, and there are smaller stadiums in Indiana and Texas.

“Once we start solving that part of the puzzle, it really will make a huge difference in terms of moving forward, having practice facilities, having fields of a decent quality that we can play on,” said Voss.

In addition to not having adequate cricket pitches, Voss said, those wanting to play games have to share public fields with other sports programs and access can be tough.

Dweep Jhaveri, a Mission Viejo resident who plays in four local leagues, said while the stadium will improve his game, he is excited at the prospect of international cricket coming to Irvine.

“I was part of a very famous game where the fastest century was scored in the IPL (Indian Premier League), 100 runs off 37 balls by Yusuf Pathan,” Jhaveri said, referring to the former Indian national cricketer. “The atmosphere was electric. There were 30-40,000 people in that stadium.”

As for the next steps, Major League Cricket is continuing negotiations with city staffers, Sturzenegger said.

While Major League Cricket wants a “dedicated facility given the demand for cricket,” she said, the organization is engaging in conversations on what a shared space — with baseball, soccer or other sports — would look like.

The challenge, City Manager Oliver Chi said, is “finding acreage that makes sense from the overall master planning process of where different types of activities are going to be organized in the park.” Staffers have been looking at how to integrate it into the sports complex area, he said.

With the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028, where cricket could be added as a new sport, and the 2024 T20 World Cup to be played in the U.S. and West Indies, Sturzenegger said, the momentum for cricket is growing. She hopes to see a Great Park stadium completed by the 2025 season.

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