MILWAUKEE -- It is a game that has been around since the late 16th Century -- yet it is still very new here in the United States and in Milwaukee. But those with the Milwaukee Cricket Club hope to see the sport's popularity continue to grow.
With centuries of history in his home country of Pakistan, you might say that cricket is in Muhammad Naeem's blood and he knows he's not alone.
"Any cricketer who you meet, that is the only excitement that'll get them going. After our religion, second religion is cricket," Naeem said.
For more than 20 years, Naeem has been bringing his second religion to Meaux Park in Milwaukee. Cricket matches and cricket practice take place there, as part of the Milwaukee Cricket Club.
"This cricket field itself, since 1974, people have been, not me, our team has been playing here," Naeem said.
It was 1996 when Naeem began playing with the Milwaukee Cricket Club, and there's been a lot of change since then.
"We had nine teams and Wisconsin had one team, which was Milwaukee-based. And then Chicago had the rest of the eight teams. Right now, in our league we have 54 teams. We're covering three states. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin you have nine cricket teams. Nine cricket teams," Naeem said.
Unlike in other countries, the makeup of the teams here is diverse.
"That is one of the best things that the U.S. can bring to cricket actually. Even on the U.S. team right now, we have West Indians. We have Indian, Pakistani origin, two or three American people -- so this is very new and very good for the international sport. The U.S. comes up with this. All these different continents and all the different people from all over, they come and play on one team," Naeem said.
To many Americans, cricket can seem overwhelming and confusing. Naeem says not so much.
"It's very, very simple. Very, very close to baseball. In baseball, you have to hit in the diamond. In cricket, you can hit anywhere. You guys in baseball call it a pitcher. In cricket we call it a baller. Baseball, you call it a hitter. We call it a batsmen. Fielder is a fielder. So if one person came and saw this game for 20 minutes, he would get the basics of it in no time," Naeem said.
The sport of cricket creates a lot of curiosity, but the Milwaukee Cricket Club makes it easy for anybody who's curious. If you see them playing at Meaux Park at Green Bay and Villard in Milwaukee -- just pull up a seat.
"Why? Because we serve the best lunches. So if you come, you get nice lunches and you are welcomed. They will see it's kind of familiar to baseball. They will love it. Like I said, lunch is great. Nobody wants to miss out on that lunch. I tell you that for sure. Please stop by and we'll explain to you the game. And I'm telling you, you will get interested in it," Naeem said.
The teaching doesn't stop at Meaux Park as the International Cricket Council is joining clubs in growing the sport.
"They helped us to go to schools. If some school was interested, they'd give them one kit bag which includes some stuff for kids. So we take that to them and we'll explain and we'll coach them," Naeem said.
It is easy to see why the sport is becoming more and more popular in Milwaukee.
"When we come to play, kids and wives, they're all here with us because they all know that we're not going to do anything other than playing cricket on Sunday if there's a game. So the passion level is unbelievably high," Naeem said.
The Milwaukee Cricket Club's games are on Saturdays and Sundays, and all of their home games are at Meaux Park.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the Milwaukee Cricket Club.