Home field advantage: Cricket star uses sport to settle stateside

John Adams senior Richie Balkarran was named the 2017 Wingate cricket award winner. The award honors the top senior player in the sport.
Photo by Robert Cole
By Laura Amato

Richie Balkarran came to the United States three years ago determined to try and fit in. It didn’t take long for him to realize the best way to do that was on the cricket field.

The John Adams senior and Guyana native not only discovered a brand-new sense of confidence in the sport, but Balkarran found an on-field family that has helped shape his time in the United States.

“When I came to the U.S., I met a few guys who I knew in Guyana and then they introduced me to John Adams and told me that there was a cricket team there,” said Balkarran, who won the 2017 PSAL Wingate Award for the city’s top senior cricket player. “That’s why I chose John Adams and decided to go there.”

Balkarran hit his stride with the Spartans as soon as he suited up for the school’s cricket team. He was named a team captain his first season and led John Adams to championship berths in each of the last two years.

The most important accomplishment for Balkarran, however, was being able to shine a spotlight on cricket and the sport’s ever-increasing popularity stateside.

“There are coaches from different countries who are trying to come to the United States to help cricket here improve and get better,” he said. “They’re taking players from the United States to go to other countries and compete and that’s a huge step. Like last year, I was in the ICC Tournament in St. Vincent and more and more people are getting interested in the sport.”

Balkarran finished in the top-10 in the city in batting average and wickets this year and now the standout is ready to take his game to the national level.

He tried out for the USA U-19 team last year and is set to compete with the squad — an honor, he’s quick to admit, he was expecting, but one he doesn’t take for granted.

“It was just thinking about going out there and representing as best as I could,” he said. “I just wanted to play hard cricket and do my best. Before I came to the United States I was about to make the Guyana national team, so I knew I was up to that level already and I knew what it takes to be on the national team.”

Balkarran has never lacked for confidence on the field, but the opportunity to represent the United States is one he relishes.

“Knowing that you’re going to get selected to represent a place like the United States of America, among 50 states and getting to represent all of them, it’s a huge thing,” Balkarran said. “It’s an incredible honor and cricket is becoming a world-wide sport and it’s growing every day. So for me to be able to play that sport and represent the country is a huge thing for me.”

His high school career might not have finished perfectly, with the team falling to Richmond Hill in the city championship, but Balkarran doesn’t have a single regret. He found a brand-new home with a bat in his hand and his teammates by his side and hopes to see others use cricket as a means of settling into America.

“Most of the people who play cricket, they’re from the Caribbean and different countries and having the same skill is a good thing,” Balkarran said. “We’re all communicating with each other and playing the same sport and that’s really good.”

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