Major League Cricket December 7, 2005

The start of a new era

Deb K Das reports that Major League Cricket has proved a point and is here to stay

Sushil Nadkarni receives his Most Valuable Player award from Bernard Cameron at the end of the Interstate competition © MLC
For Major League Cricket (MLC), the events taking place at Brian Piccolo Park in Florida on December 5 were at once a vindication and an epiphany.

Under cloudless skies where the whiplash winds of Katrina and the floods in the wake of Wilma had been a recent nightmare, the MLC Interstate Tournament was played out to a rousing climax attended by cricket greats of the past, an assortment of officials from Broward County (the county of the "hanging chads" that nearly derailed the 2000 US presidential election), and curiosity-seekers unfamiliar with the sport who came to see a game played between two first-class sides from England and the West Indies and the cream of the US cricketers from the inter-state contests of the past few days. This was truly a magic moment for Bernard Cameron, all the more so because of the toil and adversity involved in getting there.

By all accounts, this has been a long journey for MLC and Cameron. More than three years ago, he and Sir Clive Lloyd had set out on what was to prove a long and arduous journey. MLC's dream had been to bring the USA into the mainstream of world cricket. They came to the USA Cricket Association (USACA) with a grand plan for a national program but were snubbed for their pains. The USACA did not believe that MLC was capable of pulling it off, and also wanted to see the money they would receive for participating in MLC's plans.

MLC tried their hand at partnering with organizations involved with junior cricket, but although the first US Under-15 national tournament was staged with MLC participation, the other partners quarreled over who would get top billing and MLC was left out in the cold.

MLC tried a scaled-down version of its plans in their New York/New Jersey neighborhood, but found they had stepped into the snake pit of US cricket politics. The local politicos accused Cameron of all sorts of chicanery and denied him access to a cricket field that MLC was hoping to use for its future programs, and mounted a whispering campaign to undermine the negotiations that MLC was having in Florida. Soon, with its initiatives stalled or brought into question, MLC retreated from the public eye and was not heard from for a couple of years.

When MLC emerged from the shadows this year, its detractors were waiting in the wings. It is widely believed that certain individuals close to the USACA, now ostracised by the ICC, and its rivals, the Council of League Presidents (CLP), tacitly joined forces to block and neutralize MLC. This time, though, their efforts were more subtle, nuanced and vicious than anything seen before in US cricket.

A proposed National Under-15 tournament in Chicago was scuttled by an orchestrated campaign by USACA/CLP supporters to dissuade constituents from sending their teams to the event. When the tournament was called off, they accused MLC of being "all talk and no action". A panoply of dirty tricks was put on display by MLC's detractors - unsubstantiated innuendos against Cameron under the cloak of anonymity, put-downs of MLC's announcements as grandstanding, and implied threats against US players cricketers who expressed any kind of support for MLC.

The officials of USACA/CLP disavowed any role in these attacks, and Cameron accepted their denials at face value, but few had any doubts where the attacks were coming from.

At this point, MLC made two crucial decisions that were to be its salvation. It chose to go it alone, without depending on any other US cricket partners for its programs, and it boldly declared that its proposed Interstate tournament, far from being a long-range goal to be achieved in future years, was going to be its first major cricket event. MLC, in other words, was going for broke.

The rest is history, and the past is prologue. MLC was able to prove that it could hold a major national tournament without any assistance from any US cricket organisations -- the cricketers were the ones who mattered, not the people who represented them. In Broward County, MLC found a US community in somewhat similar circumstances -- eager to stop being the butt of jokes around the world because of the infamous hanging chads, and determined to build on the reputation it had built as being the only officially-certified US site for the 2007 World Cup. And the inability of USACA and CLP to offer anything tangible to US cricket for all of 2005 gave MLC an unrivalled opportunity to establish its own credentials, which it did in style.

The rest of the achievements of MLC at Brian Piccolo Park were icing on the cake. Broward County, after having to postpone the tournament in order to clean up after Katrina, made up handsomely for it by its total commitment to the event in money and time. US cricket acquired its first-ever major sponsors, the professional cricketers of England and West Indies sent the best international squads that US players have faced at home in recent memory, and proved that they were up to that major challenge. Including past greats like Vivian Richards, Clive Lloyd, Desmond Haynes and others, there were more Test cricketers present than at any US cricket in history, and all expressed complete support for MLC and its future plans.

It has indeed been a long road back from MLC, from the ignominies and reverses it suffered in its early days. But MLC is here at last, and it is clear that it intends to stay.

Deb K Das is Cricinfo's correspondent in the USA