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Can America be the ‘Land of Opportunity’ for cricket?

Bart King (above) was hailed by Sir Don Bradman as the greatest cricketing son of America. Photo Courtesy: WIkipedia
Bart King (above) was hailed by Sir Don Bradman as the greatest cricketing son of America. Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Cricket is a developing sport in the United States of America. It is the home of around 200,000 weekend cricketers and 15 million fans. Sandipan Banerjee finds out the chances of development of the game of cricket in the ‘land of opportunity’.

If one talks about sports in the United States of America (USA), one usually thinks of baseball, basketball or American football. We can even think of other Olympic sports in which the Michael Phelps, the Allyson Felixes or the Williams sisters had excelled and won medals for the nation. Even in football USA is doing really well at the world stage. But cricket?

History says cricket was once one of the popular games of USA. Simon Worrall, writing for the website of Smithsonian, has mentioned that it was once the national game of the country.  Even the first official international cricket match was played between United States and Canada in 1844, fifty-two years before the first Olympics. There used to be a strong cricket culture in New York and Philadelphia in those days. Belmont Cricket Club, Tioga Cricket Club, St George’s Club were some famous cricket clubs of that era.

After losing the Ashes series 0-1, a full-strength Australian side led by Jack Blackham crossed the Atlantic to play six matches in North America — five in USA and one against Canada in 1893. Surprisingly, they lost the first match of the tour against the Gentlemen of Philadelphia. It was the sparkling performance of young Bart King, because of whom the home side managed to achieve this famous victory against the mighty Australians. King was later hailed by Don Bradman as the greatest cricketer ever produced by America.

The British brought the game in the USA.  But in that era cricket was run with a more ‘royal way’ and British colonies and dominions like Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies were more amenable territories to establish the imperial game. In the 19th Century, the Native Americans started to keep distance from a ‘Colonial Sport’ and they were looking for a ‘Made in America’ game, so they choose basketball. The chances of cricket’s development in the mainland US slowly faded away.

Cricket’s second innings started in USA in the 20th century. By that time cricket was no longer a ‘Royal Game’; it had turned into a game of masses.  In the 1970s the immigrants from the West Indies, which ruled the sport at the time, had started arriving in US. It was further boosted as the wave of workers from South Asia arrived for the tech boom of the late 1980s and 1990s. These people, who came from the cricketing nations, started the restoration of the game in New York, Florida, Washington DC, Dallas, Chicago and California.

The Compton Cricket Club (above), or the 'Homies and Popz' are the first American team to tour Australia © Getty Images
The Compton Cricket Club (above), or the ‘Homies and Popz’ are the first American team to tour Australia © Getty Images

USA made its One-Day International (ODI) debut under International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2004, at the ICC Champion’s Trophy, England.  They qualified for the tournament, by winning the ICC Six Nations Challenge. USA made the cut by overhauling teams like Netherlands, Namibia, Scotland and Canada, who had all played in the 2003 Cricket World Cup. It was also their last biggest appearance at World stage.

One decade later the scenario has changed. Cricket has different formats now. The shortest format of a cricket match can be finished in three and a half hours, which is perfect for the American ‘Time is Money’ culture. As anticipated this format was accepted by the Americans. Cricket is now the fastest growing sports in the mainland America. USA and China are already recognized by International Cricket Council (ICC) as the most promising nations where the game of cricket can be nurtured.

By some estimates, America is home of around 200,000 weekend cricketers and 15million fans. According to an article by Martin Pengelly of The Guardian, 2.4million viewers watched the telecast of the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 final between India and Sri Lanka. 316,000 people saw it through official online channels. The data may be enough for the sponsors and investors to invest in American cricket.

Cricket is not just a weekend sport in USA, it is quite popular at school and college level, as per The Economist (Daily Mail is in agreement). The Yale cricket team captain Suresh Bhagwat finally sounds relieved: “We finally got our own home ground in 2013.”

Arjun Poddar (left) and Sameera Viswakula… Cricket maniacs from the subcontinent in the US.
Arjun Poddar (left) and Sameera Viswakula. Cricket maniacs from the subcontinent in the US

Age-group cricket is also blooming in the country. State and metropolitan cricket leagues like Washington Cricket League, Cricket League of New Jersey, California Cricket League are blossoming. And in October 2014, the first ever national league of US, the American Cricket Champion’s League (ACCL) will kick off.  As many as 17 regional teams from all over US will participate in this major domestic One-Day (40 overs per side) tournament.

The only internationally certified cricket ground in US is Central Broward Regional Park Stadium in Lauderhill, Florida. On May 22, 2010 New Zealand and Sri Lanka resumed International cricket in North America. The played two T20 matches, in which both the teams won one game each. Four T20 International matches have been played on the ground; interestingly the Black Caps featured in all of those. The last of these four matches were played between West Indies vs New Zealand on 1st June, 2012.

In May 2014 the Los Angeles T20, a private cricket league was successfully organized, though it was not recognized by the United State of America Cricket Association (USACA) because of the on-going tussle with the America Cricket Association, which claims to be the alternative governing body for cricket in the USA. Some administrative control is required to sort this mess up. Otherwise they might face suspension by ICC.

Controversies are the part and parcel and it will remain to be so. But if we can shift our focus from the controversies and concentrate on the positive side, then it can be seen that in the US, cricket is not just an amateur sport now. The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) is helping the USACA to develop the game in North America. Seeing all these, some people are even comparing the present state of cricket in the US to football of few decades back.

This is the perfect time for the USA national cricket team to put their hands up and give a better performance at the International level. Examples of Ireland, Afghanistan and Nepal have shown us that if the national team performs well at the international level, than the path of development of the game in the country become smoother. If the American team can improve their performance and attract eyeballs, then the game of Cricket will certainly find another destination in the land of opportunities.

(Sandipan Banerjee is a reporter at Cricket Country. Cricket has been the biggest passion for him since his childhood. So, when it came to choosing his career, he chose to turn his passion into his profession. Apart from cricket he likes mountain trekking, river rafting and photography. His twitter handle is @im_sandipan)

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