Is cricket in USA on its way to revival?  © Getty Images
Is cricket in USA on its way to revival? © Getty Images

In the first part of this two-part series we revisited the rich history of cricket in USA that started with the first cricket match in 1709, the same year as the first inter-county cricket match was played in England.  The first international cricket match ever played was also in USA in 1844 against Canada. We also revisited the rise and the decline of the modern game over the years.

But this is a new dawn and potentially we are at the cusp of something extraordinary. It is the time to wipe the slate clean and build the foundations that will bring cricket into the mainstream of American sports and launch USA cricket as a force to reckon with in the international arena over the coming decade or so.

ICC and the future state of Cricket governance in USA

USA Cricket Association (USACA) was finally expelled in June this year after a unanimous vote during the ICC’s AGM in London after 52 years of being the ICC’s governing body in USA. Without going into the history of this dispute and the mess the game has found itself in because of administrative issues, suffice to say that this enables USA cricket to make a fresh start. Dave Richardson, ICC Chief Executive explained, “The whole process, from suspending USACA to expelling them, the whole objective was to unite the cricket community in the United States behind a national governing body that represented everybody. So the first step will be creating the governance infrastructure to fill that void and represent the whole cricket community bearing in mind the size of the country.”

Anticipating that this was going to be the final outcome, exactly a year ago, the ICC announced the formation of four national advisory groups to implement US strategy and put in place the future growth and development plans for cricket in the country. The groups and members were:

- Participation: Kinjal Buch, Malika Frank, Shelton Glasgow, Jamie Harrison, Ajay Jhamb, Jamie Lloyd, Rizwan Mohammed, Priya Singh, Michael Voss, Brian Walters

- Performance: Julie Abbott, Mir Ali, Aditya Mishra, Sushil Nadkarni, Ricardo Powell, Dean Riddle, Usman Shuja

- Fan and Market Development: John Aaron, Lorna Austin, Kevin Hussain, Venu Palaparthi, Masaood Yunus

- Sustainable Foundation: Dr Vincent Adams, Gordon Alphonso, Donna Bowes, Dr. Linden Dodson, Jim Isch, Jagan Jagannathan, Priyantha Liyanage, Shiraz Najam, Syed Shahnawaz, Patricia Whittaker

The group consists some of the most committed individuals who have been pursuing the agenda for growth of game in the country.

Former West Indies international Ricardo Powell, one of the cleanest strikers of the cricket ball in his time, had moved to Florida in 2012. Powell is a passionate advocate of the future of cricket here. Indian fans will remember his 124 in 93 balls against India at Singapore in 1999 that single-handedly took the game away despite Rahul Dravid’s 103 not out.

Powell and former USA fast bowler Usman Shuja are part of the Performance Committee, as is Dean Riddle, a former England and Yorkshire strength and conditioning coach. Riddle currently works as an applied sports scientist for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks franchise.

Patricia Whittaker, former West Indies Women’s international and now a lawyer in New York will be one of the leaders of the Sustainable Foundation effort which includes development of a future constitution for US cricket.

Kinjal Buch, who manages the California Cricket Academy that is doing stellar work in youth level cricket in USA and produces some of the brightest talents from the Under-9 to the Under-19 levels, is a part of the Participation effort, and will work closely in this regard with the likes of former South African First-Class batsman Michael Voss.

Over the next 12 to 18 months these advisory groups will continue to work with ICC Americas staff until a governing body is designated. Given the combined experience and passion of the group, this can only be positive for the game, and one assumes that some of them will form the core of the new governing body.

What is going on at the grassroots level of the game?

Lorna Austin who is a part of the Fan and Market Development group, has been an administrator with the NY Public Schools Athletic League for more than 20 years and also serves as the cricket coordinator for the PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) Cricket League, the only high school cricket league in America. The PSAL is a high school tournament that was implemented in 2008. In 20176-2017, 32 teams participated in the tournament, up from only 14 in 2008.

On the other side of the country, in California, the achievements of some dedicated cricket enthusiasts have been no less commendable. California Cricket Academy has been hosting a youth cricket league for kids aged 6 to 17 for ten years now, besides providing coaching in multiple cities in Northern California. The Academy has state-of-the-art equipment and facilities like world-class bowling machines, Incrediballs, Kanga kits, three batting cages with different types of wickets and two match grounds with centre pitches. They have been organising the California Cricket Festival for the last couple of years where teams from all over the country come to participate in 6 categories: Under-9, Under-11, Under-13, Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19.

USA is producing some excellent Under-19 cricketers. Last month they narrowly lost out to Canada for a place in the Under-19 World Cup to be held in 2019.

In a significant development however, eight players who represented USA in the Under-19 qualifiers against Canada have been invited by the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) to join different teams (two each assigned to four CPL teams). This will enable them to practice and rub shoulders with some of the top T20 players in the world. The USA senior team has been invited to play 2 matches against CPL teams and in these matches four USA Under-19 players will play in each match.

Awais Mubarak and Gaurav Patanker will be assigned to Barbados Tridents, Karthik Gattepalli and Keshav Pabbisetty to Guyana Amazon Warriors, Motak Buch and Raymond Ramrattan to defending champions Jamaica Tallawahs, and Sahil Patel and Sam Das to The St Kitts & Nevis Patriots.

Powell, now also USA Chairman of Selectors, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to have some of the best bowlers from the USA Under-19 team, who recently participated in the World Cup Qualifier in Toronto last month, to develop their skills and be around some of the best players in the world.”

So what is the missing ‘elephant in the room’?

The consensus among those I spoke to on the ground, is that the real elephant in the room is the lack of quality coaches available on a long term basis. While there are dedicated local coaches, for the game to move to the next level and grow in a sustainable manner encompassing all four parameters defined by the advisory groups, there needs to be a much more robust coaching model in place.

If each Cricket Academy can have two full-time experienced coaches brought in from abroad who work 35 to 40 hours a week throughout the year, and two assistant coaches for each of them taken from locally available coaching talent in USA, the quality of players and the number of players who would improve their game would be in the multiple of what it is today.

Given that the majority of the young players in USA today hail from the Indian subcontinent, and India’s pre-eminent position in world cricket today makes availability of coaching talent abundant, it may make sense to look at India for the coaching needs of USA cricket.

A coach like Chetan Mankad, long-time Ranji Trophy player for Saurashtra and West Zone and former league cricketer in UK and USA, is a good example. With his experience as coach with Gujarat Cricket Association for the past 12 years and a bowling coach at the National Cricket Academy in India, someone like him will add immense value to USA cricket. Mankad has been associated on and off over the past decade or so with the California Cricket Academy; one assumes would be happy to put his skills at the disposal of USA cricket when needed.

Another name that springs to mind is Prashant Shetty, former First-Class cricketer of Karnataka, whose coaching career has been on an upward trajectory in recent years. Shetty has been the Mumbai Under-16 coach for the past year or so and was the Mumbai Under-14 coach for four years before that. He also coaches at MIG Cricket Academy. Given the age group he specialises in, USA Cricket and academies around the country should be very interested in speaking to people like Shetty for long-term contracts to build a robust foundation for the game.

It is time to make the change and dream

It is early days yet in the new USA cricket firmament. But it is at times like this, when an upheaval has taken place and all the stars are aligned for new ways to take their roots, that opportunities need to be grabbed with both hands, out of the box ideas embraced, and investments made that will pay off in the distant future.

Build the physical infrastructure, hire the full time coaches, incentivise the kids and parents to take the game as seriously as they would basketball, baseball, American football or soccer, bring in the global talent to showcase what the tomorrow of cricket can look like, and send out the players to see what the today of cricket looks like.

If this is done, in time the stars will emerge, the teams will win tournaments, the fans will come and the sponsors will break the doors down.

(Cricket in) America will be Great Again.