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On any given Sunday, even during a sweltering July, West Valley City resident Nasir Khan and his teammates of the Salt Lake County Cricket Union Sabrecats devote hours to a labor of love and one of Utah's least-known sports.

"Cricket is the second-most popular sport in the world," said Khan, founder and team captain of Salt Lake County Cricket Union. "You've got to be a world-class athlete [to play]. You've got to build stamina and you've got to build strength — not anyone can go on the field and perform."

In the mid-1800s, English converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints introduced the sport to several budding communities along the Wasatch Front, paving the way for more than a dozen cricket clubs in Utah. But as more popular sports such as football, basketball and baseball spread, cricket's popularity dropped off.

Nowadays, a more modern version of the sport is being played at 11th Avenue Park, along Terrace Hills Drive in Salt Lake City. Instead of matches lasting five days, they now take three or four hours. But while Twenty20 cricket moves at a quicker pace, the sport remains in the shadows. Still, the 45-year-old Khan said he's seen some positive signs of growth.

"I'll take it," he said. "If you go back 25 years ago, I had a hard time rounding up enough players. Now we officially have six clubs, and our team is officially recognized by the United States Cricket Association."

The former professional cricket player from a small town in northern Pakistan immigrated to Utah after a car accident ended his pro career. Khan attended the University of Utah, and in 1986 started the Salt Lake Cricket Union, now known as Salt Lake County Cricket Union. Through the years, he has taught doctors, lawyers and students.

Max Atkinson, 28, is one of his protégés. He's been playing semi-pro cricket in the West Indies and recently joined the Salt Lake club.

"Honestly, I'm just grateful for the opportunity," said Atkinson, a Utah Valley University graduate. "For me, it's just like a region. I was extremely happy [to find the Sabrecats]. I never thought there'd be a team here in Utah."

In June, the Sabrecats won the Intermountain Regional Cricket Championship for the sixth time in 10 seasons. The team will take August off, but begins play again in September. —

Sabrecats: It's Cricket

R Nasir Khan, 45, is a former professional cricket player. In 1986 he founded the Salt Lake Cricket Union. Teams from Provo to Logan compete in the league, now known as Salt Lake County Cricket Union.

Cricket teams have 11 players and use two bases.

Earlier this season the Salt Lake Sabrecats won the Intermountain Regional Cricket Championship for the sixth time in 10 years.