By Rashad Mulla, Broadside Correspondent

In March, a George Mason University sports team was on the verge of securing a spot in the semifinals of a national tournament. But it is not a team anyone would suspect.

Mason’s cricket team came only a point away from advancing past the preliminary round of the 2010 American College Cricket Spring Break Championship held in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from March 17-21.

Although they won their match against last year’s champion Montgomery (Md.) College, tournament rules awarded a point for eliminating all batsmen from the opposing team.

With Montgomery College playing spoiler and switching to a defensive batting style, Mason came up just short.

But while they did not win the 16-team tournament, the national spotlight was a significant step forward for the visibility of cricket on campus.

“Cricket is in demand on campus,” said team manager Mohammad Kashif, a senior chemistry major. “Although Mason does not have the infrastructure for cricket, we can still make do with what we have.”

With limited financial support, Kashif and his fellow cricket enthusiasts have organized multiple high-profiled matches during the past year.

Kashif and Paul Bazzano, assistant director for intramurals and recreational sports, set up an intramural tournament on campus that took place at about the same time as the national championship. The intramural tournament ran from March 17-20.

For students like Kashif, who could not spare the time or money to travel to Florida for a week, this was an intriguing option. Spots filled up quickly, despite the roster size being increased to 20 players for each of the eight teams.

“It was our first ever tournament, so we just wanted to see how much interest there was at an intramural level,” said Kashif, who also captained the powerhouse Kings XI Punjab team, the intramural tournament champion. “All eight teams registered within a day.”

This year’s matches followed last April’s on-campus charity cricket tournament (which Kings XI Punjab also won), sponsored by GMU Lending Hands, a student group that focuses on raising money and providing assistance to those in need. The tournament raised about $500, according to Kashif.

Cricket has been a staple of International Week for more than 15 years, Kashif said.

This exposure is a long way from the pickup cricket games in Mason parking lots and on the Quad between Fenwick Library and SUB I, where students used to play.

“Sooner or later, Mason will probably have an approved cricket team,” Kashif said. “We’re going through the proper channels to see the proper way of doing things. We’re definitely pushing for full-time club status and indoor practice facilities now.”

However, the road to cricket prominence has not been easy and is far from over. The university has faced increasing budget cuts in recent years, prompting individual departments to cut costs.

While student participation has not been a problem, support has been sporadic, due to the lack of an official cricket student group or club sports team on campus.

Cricket players have been turned away from the indoor practice facilities on one occasion, Kashif said, as registered teams have priority.

Funding has also been a major hurdle. Without official status, each of the players on the team that went to the national tournament easily paid upward of $1,000 to compensate for airfare, hotels and training.

“They did not regret it one bit,” Kashif said.

Bazzano made sure such problems would not plague the intramural tournament.

Although the Intercollegiate Athletics Department did not figure the tournament into their annual budget, Bazzano was able to put $1,000 toward the event for equipment, promotion and paid referees — some of whom were Mason alumni.

Bazzano said this would be a trial run to gauge the interest in cricket on campus, and his announcement at the awards ceremony left cricket enthusiasts full of joy.

“This is something we’re going to do every year in the spring from here on out,” said Bazzano, referencing the intramural tournament. “The tournament ran very smoothly and you couldn’t ask for better sportsmanship.”

Bazzano also plans to test out a four-week on-campus cricket season in the fall, followed by playoffs. The equipment he purchased for this semester’s intramural tournament is now available for checkout at the RAC.

“The students really made it happen,” said Bazzano.