What hope for cricket in the USA?

Bedroom politics

Martin Williamson despairs as the two factions battling for control of the game in the USA appear determined to see through a policy of mutually assured destruction

Martin Williamson

September 29, 2005

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A few days ago my two daughters, aged three and six, were indulging in a petty squabble over something trivial. It quickly blew up into a major row; by the end, neither of them could remember what they were arguing about, but they continued to hammer away anyway. The solution was fairly easy. Both were sent to their rooms for five minutes to calm down, and peace and harmony was soon restored.

Sadly, over the last year or so, while those supposedly running US cricket have behaved like children, they have shown far less maturity, less willingness to compromise, and no forgiveness. And the solution is not as easy as a quick spell in their bedrooms. The end result is that although all their toys have been taken away, they continue to squabble regardless.

In the days of the Cold War the concept of mutually assured destruction - that as both sides had the capability of blowing the other into kingdom come, neither would - kept the world by and large peaceful. In US cricketing circles, those in charge have destroyed the country's short to medium-term future, but they keep on firing missiles.

The pointlessness of the battle between the USA Cricket Association and the Council of League Presidents seems apparent to everyone except those taking part. The bitter infighting has cost the USA the possibility of earning millions of dollars as well as any credibility on the global cricket stage. US cricket has become such a pariah that the national team has been kicked out of the ICC's Intercontinental Cup (no bad thing given the USA's lamentable display in the ICC Trophy in July) and the USACA's representatives were bluntly told that they would not be welcome at world cricket's annual get together in London at the end of June.

And yet the two factions continue to snipe and sue. As things stand, the matter is bogged down in the courts where it could take months, or even years, for the situation to be resolved. And exactly who pays for the whole legal circus is uncertain, but it won't be cheap.

So ingrained is the hatred that only the intervention of an outside peace-keeper is likely to be able to find a resolution. Neither side will agree on a way forward - recent correspondence between laywers representing the two factions and the ICC reveal that they could not even find a consensus on one individual in the squad submitted to the ICC for the Intercontinental Cup matches in Canada. As a result, the national side was expelled and both groups sat back and blamed each other.

There are no innocent parties. Both sides have agendas and scores to settle. But that Gladstone Dainty and his associates continue to claim to represent US cricket, and what's more think that their presence can in any way be advantageous to it, is remarkable. Dainty and his board have overseen a period of mismanagement almost unparalleled in cricket. Even the ICC, which is usually diplomatically discreet, was pushed into writing that it had "never seen a sporting organisation that combines such great potential and such poor administration as USACA." Ehsan Mani, the ICC president, told Dainty that "much of the blame for this lies with the current office bearers of USACA including yourself."

But that is only part of the story. Project USA, which would have given a massive boost to the game, both financially and in terms of public profile, was scrapped after the board arrogantly and naively indulged in a stand off with the ICC which it was never going to win.

On the field, the national team became an international laughing stock. At the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy, the aging side was humiliated amid reports of indiscipline and disputed choices by the selectors. Despite that, a virtually unchanged squad was named for the ICC Trophy in Ireland. Unsurprisingly, the outcome was equally pathetic, as the USA, who should have been among the leading countries, failed to win any of their group matches, missing out on a place at the 2007 World Cup and one-day status as well.

Even Nero failed to fiddle so impressively while Rome burned. The USACA's response to this debacle was to ignore the whole thing on its own website, and to throw itself wholeheartedly into arguing with the CLP over team selections for the Intercontinental Cup. Despite ICC warnings that enough was enough, the two sides bickered and the USA suffered the consequences.

Last month there came a glimmer of hope, as the Under-19 side won the Amercias tournament in impressive style. That they were there at all was only because of the ICC's remarkable tolerance. Deadlines for agreement on the squad came and went, but as Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, said, youngsters should not be penalised because of the conduct of their elders.

The USA won all four matches, and in doing so qualified for the U-19 World Cup. Amazingly, Dainty sent a congratulatory note to the squad which included one remarkable sentence. "The board of directors and the selection committee are certainly to be commended for the accomplishments of our Under-19 team." Giving credit for the achievement to the board of directors would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

What outsiders are asking is why Dainty continues. He has his supporters, but he also had a large number of opponents. A successful businessman, his personal standing must have been damaged by the affair, and yet he continues as if nothing was wrong. His resilience and single-mindedness is admirable.

So what are the chances of an external peacekeeper being appointed? The only organisation that could step in is the ICC, but it has to be invited to do so by the national board, and under the current administration, that is not going to happen as the relationship between the current USACA board and the ICC appears to be beyond repair. Sources in the know suggest the hierarchy of the ICC find the USACA leadership unpalatable, and are only a little more fond of the CLP.

The interim decision by the court which allows the Dainty-led faction to remain in charge has ensured that nothing will happen in the short term, and it seems that the CLP no longer has the stomach, or possibly the financial clout, for a fight it started full of bravado only a few months back. In fairness, the court has reportedly slapped a gagging order on the CLP and its executive so it and they are unable to comment. But there is a suspicion that this suits people who have been all too ready to use leaks to the media to get their message across in the past.

These are dark days for cricket in the USA, and shorn of external funding from the ICC, it is hard to see how the board can continue to blindly stumble on. But rest assured, it will do so until the bitter end, and that might still be some time off.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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