Clouds hang over USA cricket
It came as no surprise, but the news is nonetheless dispiriting. The governing body of American cricket, the USACA, has been suspended by the ICC for the second time for failing to construct a new constitution within the agreed deadlines. Even that old mantra "the only way is up" seems impossibly hopeful.
Their first suspension was lifted in March 2006 with one caveat: a new constitution to be in place by December 31. Inevitably this didn't happen and, rather generously, the ICC granted an extension until March 1 2007. This, too, didn't happen. Clubs, their directors, players and most of all, the fans, are disgusted with the apparent apathy of the USACA. Today's decision isn't a shock, but it is certainly deserved.
To compound the depression, the administration's incompetence is at odds with a country whose passion for the sport is nothing short of fervent. This was perfectly demonstrated by Peter Whitehead, a 12-year-old who wrote to us this week with damning evidence of the USACA's ineptitude. Not yet in his teens, Peter is the president of a youth cricket club at his school in Mesa, Arizona. Quite reasonably, he expected some form of assistance from his country's board, but the trail was long and fruitless. He spoke to the USACA who told him to contact his local representative, who in turn sent him to the Arizona director, who palmed him off to the California director, who palmed him back to the Arizona director. And so on.
Eventually, Peter's path took him to Major League Cricket (MLC) who, for seven months, led him to believe they would help him. They didn't. MLC have been around for seven years; they have fought to oust the USACA in that time, even approaching the ICC 12 months ago in a bid to formally replace the incumbents with an MLC constitution. Why didn't they help? Unperturbed by the setbacks Peter approached Urban Cricket while on holiday with his family, several thousand miles away in England. The ECB-funded venture hand out kits to children in Britain, and they gave Peter and his club eight plastic bats and balls. The USACA have done nothing for this young, keen cricketer and his story is not uncommon. So much for Gladstone Dainty, its president, insisting that the "youth and female cricket programmes are the priorities of USACA".
The response to Peter's trials has been startling. People with similar experiences have shared their problems; advice has been offered; offers for kit, pitches and matches have been made. There is a genuine love of the game in the United States but enthusiasm from fans and players is just not enough. Strong leadership and professionalism is required and, at the moment, the USACA is worryingly bereft of both.
In his letter to Dainty today, Malcolm Speed, the ICC Chief Executive, added that the USA's suspension "occurs at a time when many objective observers strongly believe that the game in the USA is sufficiently strong to warrant USA being included in the ICC Cricket World Cup which commences this month" which emphasises the frustration many must feel in the USA. There are some teams in the World Cup who won't make much, if any, impact. Take Bermuda for example. It is estimated they have just 2000 cricketers in a territory stretching to just 28sq miles. The USACA have 667 clubs alone. That is quite some player pool yet it remains untapped, like a hidden Texan oil field.
And still Dainty insists everything is rosy and all is on track. "The actions of the USACA have always been in the best interest of cricket in the USA," he flat-batted to Cricinfo last week. "Cricket will explode in the boys and girls club area" in five or ten years' time, he claims. Try telling that to Peter Whitehead and the hundreds of other schoolchildren whose only wish is to pick up a bat and a ball and play the game.
In Speed's press release, he said that the "ICC recognizes that the USA has vast potential as a cricketing nation but without a functioning administration that potential is likely to remain largely untapped". As long as the current administration remains in power, little will change for the better. It's like being stuck on a roundabout in the rush-hour and no one, least of all the big truck on your right with "USACA" emblazoned on its side, will let you out.
Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo