By Pratheek Palanethra
I started playing cricket at the age of 2 and have been incredibly passionate about it ever since.
I played any and all forms of cricket growing up from gully/street cricket to professional cricket; in fact, I played with a lot of current international cricketers like Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, KL Rahul and many more from the state of Karnataka.
Although I played alongside many cricketers who have established themselves in the domestic circuit, I did not make it there.
But that's not because I was not talented or skilled enough – it was due to lack of access to the right kind of cricket tools and equipment.
It was always a struggle for me to consistently practice because of all the traveling I had to do to get to a practice facility and the growing traffic in India did not help it either. By the time I reached the ground, I was mentally drained as the commute was both time and energy-consuming.
As a result, there was low productivity and efficiency in practices, which often came off as mediocre performance on match days. I had monetary constraints as well as I did not have the luxury to pay and join an academy to train with professional players and coaches. So it was always challenging for me to get to the next stage.
But the story didn't end there.
I came to the United States to pursue higher education, while still having a small hope and dream of playing competitive cricket in a country with less competition. Unfortunately, the problems were both different and the same in the United States all at the same time.
It was difficult to even find four people for a team that had decent cricket skill and form and there were geographical restraints in forming a strong team. It was typically more than an hour drive to get to an indoor facility and combined with 2-hours of practice, it would become a half-a-day affair on weekends.
The amount of money spent for gas, food and rent for the lanes or bowling machine (for 2 hours minimum) is easily $150- $200. Most cricketers on the team are just weekend warriors, unfit and playing cricket just for fun and recreation. Thus, I never got much out of the practice sessions after spending all of that money and time.
So, either way, being in India or the USA did not help me become a better cricketer. I always yearned for more, but just couldn’t get it no matter what. Honestly, I became annoyed and frustrated a lot of the time.
I later thought about buying a bowling machine for myself so that I could satisfy my cricketing hunger whenever I wanted to. I began looking up for an “inexpensive, portable non-electrical bowling machine” that I could use anywhere and just put it up and have my (x) girlfriend operate it for me.
To my surprise, there was nothing out there that suited what I was looking for. I was amazed to find out nobody had tried to solve this problem in 150 years of cricket, or however long the game has existed.
After hours and hours of research, I found worse problems with the bowling machines that did exist on the market. The current day bowling machines are big, bulky, electrically operated, cost as much as $3,000. It's so tough to own one of these that most individuals and teams just don't bother. It can only be found in sports facilities and academies, and most of them are programmed to use dimpled machine balls but not actual cricket balls.
I began interviewing people about their experience with bowling machines and to my surprise, I unfortunately found that more than 80% of the world’s total cricket population had never used a bowling machine in their lifetime. This was mainly due to the fact that existing bowling machines have only ever been accessible to and affordable for professional teams and not every day cricketer’s who just wanted to play.
From my own experience, I have seen a lot of young and talented players get lost in the crowd (especially in a country like India) because they do not have the resources to train like the professionals.
Even if they did, there are often other problems that arise in India like traffic, poverty and family pressures. A lot of these factors cause many promising players to prematurely end their careers, dream and passion. I am a victim myself.
Coincidentally, I was working on my final semester project for my graduate studies in the entrepreneurship program at Lehigh University. The timing was perfect to start seriously thinking about solving this problem for millions of cricketers around the world who want to play cricket (or bat) either for fun or seriously in order to take their game to the next level.
Thus, a bowling machine, which is simplistic in design, that is mobile and portable, capable of throwing real cricket balls without using electricity, all at an affordable price point was born.
I started freebowler with a goal to serve the cricketing community.
I have suffered enough as a cricketer and I don’t want others to undergo the same cycle of struggles I did growing up. I aim to help every cricketer and make sure they are equipped to get enough enjoyment and satisfaction from their cricketing experience either by playing the cricket or watching the game.
I see that there is huge demand for cricket here in the United States, however people are seemingly deprived of the game. It’s very upsetting to see people suffer without the ability to play proper cricket in this country, but there’s something that can be done to bring cricket back and fulfill the needs of the game.
My vision is to increase the popularity of cricket in the United States to make it a mainstream sport with the big four.
Cricket was, is and will forever be on my mind!