Microsoft breaks new ground … campus cricket, anyone?

By Greg Shaw, Senior Director, Microsoft’s Office of CEO. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

“If you build it, they will come,” a disembodied voice implores Kevin Costner in the baseball masterpiece, Field of Dreams. The opposite might be said of the cricket grounds Microsoft plans to build as part of its revitalized campus in Redmond, Washington, the company’s headquarters.

Cricket players already have been coming for years, negotiating their way onto softball diamonds and soccer fields to play their sport, but in a few years they will have their own field of dreams — an oval, wicket and stumps that reflect the growing influence of employees from the cricket-mad nations of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, Bangladesh, West Indies, South Africa and England. After soccer, cricket is the second most popular sport on the planet with 1.5 billion fans worldwide.

Microsoft announced plans on Nov. 28 for a 2.5 million square-foot expansion of its sprawling campus just east of Seattle. Apple’s futuristic campus and Amazon’s urban footprint have been making headlines for years. But renderings of the new Microsoft campus reveal a surprising, oval-shaped ground with a wicket in the middle next to a lush green soccer field. The plan almost certainly invoked a few hazzahs! from developers and marketers inside the rabbit warrens and cubicles of the 40-year-old software maker.

Their excitement is merited. This may be the first proper, recreational cricket ground ever designed and built as part of a major corporate or community project in the United States. Wikipedia shows less than a handful of cricket grounds west of the Mississippi, and the few that do exist are in the ancestral American cricket homelands of Philadelphia and New York.

Vishwa Gaddamanugu, who manages a number of cricket endeavors in the Pacific Northwest and has served as a selector for USA Cricket, cannot recall another project of this scale that incorporated a cricket grounds. He and others in the Indian community have advocated for years to have King County parks build an official cricket ground, even offering private financing. But to no avail.

Microsoft’s Bill Lee, who is managing the project, can sympathize. Years ago he worked on a project in Irvine, California to build a giant community sports complex. Despite lots of space and lots of Orange County resources, a cricket grounds did not make the cut.

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On a recent Friday morning, Bill Lee, Michael Ford and Mohan Reddy Guttapalem, the new campus team, gathered around a model of the construction plans.

“Redmond is the capital of cricket in the U.S. because of Marymoor Park,” Bill Lee told me. But, of course, the cricket ground was never designed to be a cricket ground and lacks the flat surface and well manicured turf needed to play a quality cricket match. Competitive teams around Seattle must travel to Vancouver or California to find a proper pitch.

One Saturday, Lee happened to stop by Microsoft’s Building 121 near one of the campus soccer fields. There he found a group of employees, fully clad in cricket uniforms, gathered around a popular coffee machine. They had just finished playing a match, and were relaxing with a hot cup of Joe. Bill used the opportunity to ask them what they wanted to see in the new campus design. Without hesitation they said that a proper cricket ground would become the home of their colleagues and families.

He asked that same question of other employees, and got an earful. Those who play soccer on their lunch breaks begged him: please find the cricketers a field of their own. Softball players regaled him with stories of three cricket matches going on at one in the corners of their field.

Michael Ford recalled that when he went to Bangalore, India, to visit the LinkedIn campus he was invited to bat in an indoor cricket cage. Workers were lined up at lunch time to practice.

Michael Ford, the general manager in charge of Microsoft’s new campus project, tries his hand at cricket during a visit to LinkedIn’s campus in Bangalore, India. “I’m ready to go pro,” he proclaimed with a note of confidence.

“If there is a community here that is not as vocal as some, we should support it,” Lee said.

The cricket space, located where Buildings 5 and 6 presently stand, is currently envisioned to be about 250-feet by over 320-feet, but there is also room to expand. The team is speaking with cricket experts to get it just right.

In that location, a well-struck ball — a six as they call it in cricket — could crash into Lake Bill, named for founder Bill Gates.

In George Selden’s classic tale, The Cricket in Times Square, a wandering virtuoso cricket named Chester is at first unwelcome at the family business but over time wins everyone to his cause. Like the cricket Chester, the game of cricket has won a prominent spot in the midst of Microsoft’s plans for a revamped corporate campus.

Greg Shaw, the rare American cricket fan, writes about the sport and its brief American history for Medium. Click here to read previous coverage. #Cricket #Microsoft @USACricket

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