Kush Navinchandra bowling for Drexel's Club Cricket Squad. Photo by American College Cricket
Three years ago, Drexel's club cricket team didn't exactly have name recognition. Playing against local, unranked schools yielded mixed results.
This month, the Dragons became the second-best club cricket squad in the entire country.
“It’s surreal, to say the least,” said Maaez Veqar, Drexel Cricket Club’s president and a student in the LeBow College of Business.
In 2012, Kabir Manocha captained the club with just 11 players, the minimum needed to field a team.
“We joined American College Cricket, a league where 70-plus teams participate” said Veqar. “We just wanted to play cricket. There were no expectations.”
It didn’t take long to see that just playing the game wasn’t enough.
“We played our first game against Princeton University,” Veqar said. “We were defeated by them and that’s when I realized that this is not a joke. The desire to win came after that loss. It did not feel good and we knew we had to step it up.”
Practicing skipped up and the team was able to secure some victories against the University of Pennsylvania in some home-and-away games, qualifying them for the 2013 American College Cricket Regionals.
Their stay in the regionals was short-lived, lasting just a game, but Veqar said Dragons showed “potential … in bits and pieces. He felt they would excel with a bit of discipline and the team began practicing together in the off-season.
The Drexel Club Cricket team in a photo which was emulated by many other college cricket squads.
“Camaraderie among players grew to where we started to feel like a family,” said Veqar, who took over as president around this time.
He had a vision to “build Drexel as a name” in cricket, not just to increase the talent pool of his team, but to also build the University as a whole.
“I know for a fact that when a lot of students apply for colleges from countries like Australia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and others, the first thing they look at after the school itself is whether it has a cricket team,” Veqar explained. “It’s in our blood. We love it.”
Veqar said the team began to realize its potential as it qualified for the regionals again in 2014, where they made it to the regional finals against the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, a top-5 team in American College Cricket: the second-year players against a juggernaut.
“We knew it was going to be tough so we spoke about it in the team huddle and just said, ‘We are going to give them a fight,’” Veqar said. “We played an unbelievable final and just fell short of defeating them. It was heart-breaking but, at the same time, we were proud of ourselves.”
Keying off that success, Drexel’s team made it to the national tournament this year, held in Florida.
Happy to have come so far in such a short time, Veqar said they were fine with whatever result they achieved, as long as they played hard.
Many of the team’s 17 players stepped up. Chandan Naik batted at the top of the order and scored 180 runs over five games in the tournament. Ravi Singh batted at a strike rate (the number of runs scored per 100 balls faced) above 120, showing his power throughout the tournament.
The team’s collective hard-nosed play turned into a semi-final match with the defending American College Cricket champions, the University of South Florida, then ranked first in the country. And, at first, it didn’t go well.
“We were getting hammered, as expected,” Veqar said. “But who knew we would fight back the way we did?
Manocha, who struggled a little in the earlier stages of the tournament, came in as bowler and took a three quick wickets to get the Dragons back in gear.
The batting of Singh and Kush Navinchandra then helped Drexel pull off its improbable victory.
“We ended up winning the closest game we have ever played,” Veqar said. “We were in tears.”
It was a Disney-esque journey for the Dragons, going from a team with barely enough players to a trip to the national championship.
“Two years ago, we lost to Princeton University, a team not even in the top 40,” Veqar said. “And that day, we defeated the number one team. It was unbelievable.”
The Dragons were unable to win the championship against the University of Texas-Dallas, but Veqar’s squad achieved his goal — Drexel was now a name in the college cricket world.
“You can throw sticks, stones, hurdles, whatever you want, at the team, but they will come back stronger and prove that Drexel cricket is no joke,” Veqar said. “We were proud to wear the Drexel logo on our jerseys, we fought tooth-and-nail, and the journey wasn’t easy but it was extremely memorable.”
This article corrected a previous version stating that there was not a Drexel cricket team prior to 2012.