Of all the things he left behind, Roger McLelland might have missed his favorite sport the most. He had grown up on the island of Tasmania dreaming of being a professional cricketer like his idol, Don Bradman, but the sport was not televised here in the United States.
McLelland, a jack-of-all-trades with a thick Aussie accent, moved here 23 years ago. “I’ll give you one guess why,” he said recently. When he and the woman broke up, he moved onto the houseboat where he still lives. One day a buddy who lives near Inman Square texted him a picture of the logo on the door of a new restaurant. It was a drawing of a ball hitting a wicket, knocking over a mug of beer.
“I was here the next night,” said McLelland, now sitting at the bar of Hit Wicket, which bills itself as the first sports bar in America specializing in screening international cricket matches. This year’s Ashes series, the historic rivalry between the national teams of Australia and England, began shortly thereafter, and he became a fixture. Since opening in June, Hit Wicket has attracted members of Greater Boston’s Australian, South Asian, Caribbean, and other expat homelands where cricket is the primary sport.
McLelland has spent so much time in the place since it opened in the spring, he’s already like its Norm from “Cheers.”
“I open the door and he walks in behind me,” said Raghu Mocherla, whose wife, Shubha Ramesh Kumar, is the restaurant’s co-proprietor, with Nada Heredia.
Mocherla then excused himself and quickly returned with a piece of the establishment’s growing collection of memorabilia — a commemorative cap from the Bradman Museum, now the International Cricket Hall of Fame. McLelland, who gave the cap to the restaurateurs, patiently explained that Bradman had an astonishing career batting average in Test matches (the long form of the sport, a game lasting up to five days) of 99.94, widely cited as the greatest statistical achievement ever recorded in any major sport.
On a late-summer Friday evening, Australia native Steffen Creaser sat around the corner at a long table with a few friends, awaiting the arrival of another dozen or more. Creaser, who came to Boston to do postdoctoral work in chemistry and works for Genzyme, organizes an Australian meet-up group. On this night, they were gathering to watch highlights of the final Test match of the Ashes — a meaningless round, given that England had already clinched the series victory.
Like most boys (and many girls) in Australia, Creaser said, he played cricket into high school. Though native Australians are also partial to Aussie-rules football, he said, “cricket is the summer sport. Nothing else compares.”
At a table near the Australians, Nimit Sawhney, a burly native of India in a dress shirt and a turban, sat with his wife and several female friends. It was his third time visiting the restaurant.
When he moved to Boston in 2004, he said, “it was hard to miss the excitement over the Red Sox,” who were on their way to their first world championship in 86 years. Living in Brookline, in the shadow of Fenway Park, he has become a Sox fan.
“I still don’t claim to know 100 percent of the rules,” said Sawhney, the head of research and development for a security firm. “Sometimes I ask, or go on Google.”
For American baseball fans, the rules of cricket are fairly easy to grasp. The “bowler,” equivalent to a pitcher, tries to dismiss the batsman by hitting the wicket behind him. On batted balls not caught in the air, the batsmen can run across the pitch to the opposite crease; each crossing is worth a run. Balls hit over the field boundary are worth six runs; balls that reach the boundary are good for four runs.
“That’s like a ground-rule double,” said Sawhney, who started a cricket club after settling in Brookline. It’s a point of pride for his countrymen that they learned to play the game, imported by British colonists in the 18th century and originally forbidden to the lower castes, well enough to defeat the English teams.
“It was a way of showing dissent without actually fighting a war,” said Sawhney, smiling.
A few feet away, Kumar and Mocherla stood by the end of the bar near the wait station, tending to the growing crowd. Just above the kitchen window, where steaming plates of curry, Aussie meat pie, and South African “bunny chow” awaited table delivery, two signatures were scrawled on the freshly painted wall. One belonged to Robin Singh, a former star cricketer who is now head coach of the US national team; the other was signed by Dilip Vengsarkar, a member of the 1983 world champion team from India. Mocherla, a devoted fan of the game — it was his idea that his wife’s restaurant have a cricket theme — said he invited Singh to visit and recognized Vengsarkar when he came into the bar.
Besides the Ashes highlights, the televisions were tuned to a Caribbean Premiere League match between Jamaica and Barbados and a One Day International between Pakistan and Zimbabwe. This being Boston, the “home of champions,” Mocherla recognizes the benefit of showing the local sports teams as well, though he’s not smitten with baseball.
“I’m actually more invested in the Patriots,” he said. “I personally think there’s more action in cricket than baseball. Baseball is a little slow-paced for me. When you go to a game, the spectators are talking, having drink. Suddenly they hear a hit, and they wake up to see what’s happening. It’s more an ESPN news highlight sport for me.”
Kumar likes the Celtics, he said. They went to a game at TD Garden when she was very pregnant with their first child.
Though the couple live in Wilmington, Mocherla said they decided to open the business in the city, hoping to draw from the neighborhood diversity and proximity to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. In suburban communities where Indian immigration is high, they would have attracted their countrymates, he said, but might not have found customers from cricket enthusiasts of other nationalities, or from curious native-born Americans.
“One of our objectives is to expose the game to more fans,” said Mocherla.
When servers at Hit Wicket greet new guests, they drop off a laminated sheet that explains the game and features some of its all-time stars and their statistics. The menu is categorized by various cricket phrases — Twenty20, Super Over, Bouncers. Specialty cocktails are listed under Googly, which is the term for a right-arm leg spin delivery.
You could look it up.