History

Cricket in the USA

John Marder and Adrian Cole

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Important dates in US cricket history

To some cricket enthusiasts it may appear presumptuous of the United States to claim a modest place in cricket history. A generation reared in the belief that baseball and American-rules football are the main sporting endeavours of the United States may be surprised to learn that cricket has been played more or less seriously for over 200 years. There was a time indeed when Philadelphia cricket was judged good enough to play the full strength of Australia and the first-class English counties, and when an American player on tour in England headed the first-class English bowling averages. The glory has long since departed but the tiny cricketing fraternity in the United States would like to consider that their efforts have upheld the best traditions of the game. One of the earliest mentions of cricket played in the American colonies appears to have been made by William Stephens, a planter living in Georgia. In 1737 he reported, "Many of our townsmen, freeholders, inmates and servants were assembled in the principal square at cricket and divers other athletick sports." Stephens knew of cricket as he was educated at Winchester and Cambridge University before engaging as a planter in the colonies.

The New York Weekly Post Boy reported a match between XI of London and XI of New York, played in New York in 1751 and won by the New Yorkers, the scores being 8o and 86 against 43 and 47. It appears most likely that both XIs were drawn from residents of New York, as it is difficult to believe that a touring group would cross the Atlantic for one match, or that the state of the game would encourage such a tour. There was a notice of a cricket match at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1754 and an advertisement for cricket equipment in the New York Independent journal for 19 April, 1786. The American Revolution alienated a great deal of interest in all matters English, one of the victims being the game of cricket. Before the Revolution there was an active interest in the game, and as far as possible in those days, there was some encouragement for the younger players. Even after the Revolution, the question of a name for the chief executive officer of the newly formed United States was brought up and John Adams remarked that "there are Presidents of fire companies and cricket clubs". It is interesting to reflect that the word President, as used for the chief executive of the United States, may have come about through its use by a humble cricket club.

About 1856 the idea of a visit from an England XI was discussed. (Bear in mind no England XI had ever visited any foreign country at this date.) An industrial depression gripped the United States in 1857, and talks were postponed. A Mr Waller of New York was instrumental in guaranteeing £500 for 2 matches in the United States, and on 6 September 1859, 12 professional cricketers of England met at the George Hotel, Liverpool, to embark for America on the steamer Nova Scotian the following morning. The team comprised Caffyn, Lockyer, H. H. Stephenson and Julius Caesar (all of Surrey), Parr, Grundy and Jackson (Notts), Wisden and John Lillywhite (Sussex), Carpenter, Hayward and Diver (Cambridgeshire) and Fred Lillywhite who acted as scorekeeper, historian and manager of the trip. History was made since it was the first overseas tour of an English Cricket XI. The little book describing the tour, first of a plethora of touring literature, is a classic of the game. The experiences of a rough passage are humorously described.

The first international game took place between England and XXII of the United States at Hoboken, New Jersey, on 3, 4 and 5 October 1859, England scoring 156 and dismissing the USA XXII for 38 and 54. There was no disgrace in the England team taking on a XXII. The early Australian games were on the same basis, and cricket in the United States was probably more advanced at that time than in Australia. At Philadelphia the XXII scored 94 and 6o. England scoring 126 and 29 for 3 wickets. The little party of cricket pioneers travelled over 7,000 miles in two months to play five matches, a prodigious adventure in those mid-Victorian times. If this first tour had been followed up Test Matches between the United States and England might have followed in due course. The bitter Civil War which broke out in 1861 between the Northern and Southern States had many unforseen results, one of which was to establish baseball beyond all doubt as the national game of the United States. Before the war cricket was an established game and baseball was played more by students and children. The difficulties of getting proper cricket equipment and of marking and maintaining pitches were too great during the 4 years of war; it was easy to throw down 4 bags to mark bases and to play baseball on any ground available. Thousands of soldiers learned the game of baseball during the Civil War. When they returned to civil life the future of baseball was assured. With the ruinous war proceeding in America, the attention of English cricket tour organisers turned to Australia.

One result of the international tour, however, was to popularise cricket in Philadelphia. English XIs began to play there and good coaching and frequent games against first-class English cricketers began to lift Philadelphia cricket to an exalted spot. Jupp's English XI of 1868 played 2 games at Philadelphia, winning both easily. A study of the scoring in these early games leads one to the conclusion that the Americans were deficient in batting and bowling. Lack of coaching was evident in the batting which apparently was suffering from poor defensive methods. A batsman simply did not know how to cope with the English bowling. Over-arm bowling had been authorized by MCC in 1864 but there is no doubt that the Americans were playing an old-fashioned game and had not learned how to cope with the new type of bowling. As late as 188o an Under-arm XI defeated a Round-arm XI at Merion, Pennsylvania, 121 to 94. This was almost loo years after round-arm bowling was introduced in England.

Philadelphia cricket was helped by the visit of R. A. FitzGerald's amateur XI in 1872, humorously described by Mr FitzGerald in his book Wickets in the West. W. G. Grace made his only appearance in the United States with this team and it is of interest to record his scores : At New York v XXII of St George's Club -- 68 and 11 wkts for 8 runs. At Philadelphia v XXII of Philadelphia -- 14 and 7 and 20 wkts for 68 runs. At Boston v XXII of Boston -- 26 and 13 wkts for 35 runs.

Most early professional baseball players were former cricketers, including Harry Wright and A. G. Spalding, both of whom founded sporting goods firms which are still active today. The Philadelphians continued to outstrip other centres until the city became the focal point of American cricket. Tours were regularly made to England and the Australian XIs began to return through the United States, playing games at Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco. These visits were too irregular to be educational, but in 1878 the Australian XI captained by D. W. Gregory, after finishing its first tour of England, met Philadelphia on 3, 4 and 5 October. This Australian team was the historic XI which had beaten MCC at Lord's in one day, but at Philadelphia they earned only a drawn game in a match which has become historic. it was the first time an American team had played on even terms in an international match. The full Australian team - Spofforth, Blackham, the Bannermans, Murdoch, Boyle and all included - were led by 46 on first innings and honours were even at the finish. This game made the fame of Philadelphia cricket. Enthusiasm ran high in the district, young men took up the game, rich men supported it and the clubs built luxurious club houses. The cricket clubs of Philadelphia became the country clubs of their time. To this day United States international tennis matches are played at Longwood Cricket Club or at Merion. In both places, alas, regular cricket is played no more.

The Philadelphians organized a visit to England in 1884 and another in 1889, playing good clubs with some success. Lord Hawke brought a team of first-class English amateurs to Philadelphia in 1891 and the Australian team of 1893 played 2 games in the city. In the first match Philadelphia made the highest score made by an American team in first-class cricket, amassing 525 and putting the Australian Test team out twice. The Australians lost the match by an innings and 68 runs. The real hero of this game, however, was a humble railway car. The liner Germanic was bringing the Australian team from England and, in an effort to save valuable time, it was arranged to pick up the team at Jersey City and put them aboard railway car No. 30! Any cricketer who can imagine himself taking a long ocean voyage, being picked up by a private train, rushed too miles, changing at breakneck speed into flannels, then stepping out to play an international match, will appreciate the position of the Australian team. Never by a look did they excuse themselves. They took their defeat in good spirit.

The Australian XI of 1896 under GHS Trott visited Philadelphia and played three games on level terms. The first two games were lost by handy margins but Philadelphia won the third by an innings and 99 runs. It was after these experiences that the city cricketers determined to try a first-class tour of England in 1897. The Philadelphian tour of 1897 was a great success and showed the heights to which their cricket had soared in a few short years. The tour was entirely first-class; after this tour all Philadelphia matches with English county opponents were reckoned first-class until 1914. The team beat Sussex and Warwickshire and drew with Somerset, Yorkshire Notts and Oxford University.

This tour also saw Bart King spring into the limelight for the first time. King, one of the world's greatest bowlers, accomplished the best performance of the tour when he took 7 for 13 against Sussex on a good wicket at Brighton. King bowled a ball which he called the `Angler' and which he has described as an in-swinger which, if properly bowled, would change direction sharply in the last 10 or 15 feet of flight. King used this ball sparingly and against good batsmen, but he did it so successfully that from 1893 to 1912 he was one of the most feared bowlers in the world and in 1908 actually headed the first-class English bowling averages. King was undoubtedly the finest cricketer produced in America, not only for his bowling in the Golden Age of American cricket, but also for his batting, and his personal characteristics endeared him to generations of friends. This giant of the game died in 1965.

In 1897 and 1899 P. F. Warner and K. S. Ranjitsinhji took teams to Philadelphia, both with great success. The Philadelphia tours of 1903 and 1908 more than held their own against the first-class counties, but the end of the glory of Philadelphia was in sight. After 1908 they played no more first-class cricket in England. The Australian team of 1912 lost to Philadelphia by 2 runs in an exciting match, and an Australian XI, visiting the United States and Canada in 1913, lost to XII of Germantown CC by two wickets in a game which was virtually the last American first-class match. Although the Philadelphian Pilgrims had an enjoyable tour in 1921, the games were not first-class. Since that time, apart from Haverford College, no American team toured in England until 1961 when Winnetka Cricket Club of Chicago made a valiant effort to play some club games in England - and with to volunteers at that!

Many reasons have been advanced for the decline of cricket as a popular game in the United States. The fact remains that the national temperament is not altogether suited for cricket's leisurely pace. Perhaps there are other reasons such as the many counter-attractions for the young generation of Americans, the lack of interest by cricket's governing bodies, the tremendous increase of spectator sports, the greater interest in sports such as golf, tennis and swimming as against team sports. The United States was one of the first countries outside England to have a magazine devoted exclusively to cricket. The American Cricketer was founded on 28 June 1877, and had a life of over 50 years. The last issue appeared in April 1929, but by that time much of its space was devoted to tennis and other sports, and cricket had been relegated to the back page, Complete sets of The American Cricketer are preserved in the library of Haverford College and the Philadelphia Library of the Historical Society of Philadelphia. The C. C. Morris Cricket Library Association was dedicated at Haverford in 1968. The organization has on view a very large collection of other American cricket memorabilia consisting of books, records, periodicals, photographs and trophies. No real central authority existed in the United States until 1961 when the United States Cricket Association was formed.

Whilst Philadelphia cricket ascended to the heights of the first-class game, there were other centres in which good class cricket was and still is played. In New York the game flourished principally because of English players who had settled in that city. The first match between the United States and Canada took place on the grounds of the St. George's Club of New York on 24 and 26 September, 1844. This game was played for $1,000 a side. The value of a dollar was much higher in those carefree days; so a great deal of importance must have been attached to this match. After a break of 51 years, the series was revived in 1963. In the first 16 games the United States and Canada each had six victories and four were drawn. The New York clubs never attained the heights of the Philadelphians but they had some good players, amongst them J. L. Poyer and B. J. Kortlang.

Cricket was televised in Los Angeles in 1958. Two hours were allotted by a local station and part of a match between Corinthians and Hollywood was shown. The match proved to be exciting, and the television station received many calls and letters congratulating it on its enterprise. Due to the enthusiasm engendered, the Harlequins CC was formed entirely of ex-cricketers who had watched the transmission. Sir Aubrey Smith deserves many plaudits for his share in the encouragment of cricket. He was born in 1863, the son of a doctor. He was educated at Charterhouse where he was in the XI, and later won a blue at Cambridge. He was principally famous for his bowling which earned him the name of Round-the-Corner Smith, due to a slanting run-up. His bowling was fast-medium and good enough to win him a place for Sussex from 1882 to 1896 as well as frequent games with the Gentlemen. In 1888-89 he captained the first English XI to play in South Africa. He arrived in Hollywood as an accomplished actor, world famous in his field, but his first love was cricket and he aided it by every means in his power. He was knighted in 1944 as a tribute to his efforts to further Anglo-American friendship. The cricket grounds at Griffith Park, Los Angeles, were officially named the Sir C. Aubrey Smith grounds.

Cricket has been played in American universities for many years, but mostly by foreign students who are from cricket-playing countries. Harvard, Yale, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Cornell have all fielded teams. The Universities of California, Ursinus, Southern Illinois and many other universities field teams irregularly. Haverford College, a small school at Haverford, Pennsylvania, has kept the flag of inter-collegiate cricket flying in the United. In 1836 the school engaged an English gardener named William Carvill who must have been a very enthusiastic cricketer. He introduced the game to some students who took it up immediately. A diary kept by an unknown student has this entry in it: "About this time a new game was introduced amongst the students called cricket. The school was shortly divided into several clubs or associations each of which was provided with the necessary instruments for playing the game."

The school sent teams over to England in 1896, 1900, 1904, 1910 and 1914 and the last Haverford College tour was in 1925. Haverford still tours Ontario as well as playing a programme of matches against eastern clubs.

American cricket, from its earliest days, has been characterised by its bonhomie and good fun. Professionalism, except for paid coaches from England who held sway in Philadelphia, has never intruded on the American scene. In a land which is probably more than most given up to materialism in sport, cricket is one of the rare sports a man indulges in for its own sake.

Cricket in the United States is played on turf wickets, on matting rolled over concrete, on matting stretched over abominable grass uncut and unrolled; in short, wherever an enthusiast stakes a claim, a cricket ground arises and for a short spell the magic of bat and ball can hold sway. Most of all, American cricket owes its being to enthusiasts for whom the charm of the game can never die and who lose no time in their new surroundings in spreading their gospel. Cricket was sometimes played in October or November, with icy conditions prevailing.

The first tourists of all time, Lillywhite'a team of 1859, played at Rochester, New York, in greatcoats and mufflers. The first cricket teams from England and Australia crossed the Great Plains in tiny rickety trains, in which depredations by bands of armed, painted Indians, in the best traditions of the Old West, were not unlikely.

Admitted to associate membership of the International Cricket Conference in 1965, the USA participated in the ICC Trophy from the first tournament in 1979 and from the mid 1980s the side's performances steadily improved. This was, however, largely due to the increase in expats from the Caribbean and the subcontinent rather than products from American-born players. It was an issue that became an increasing concern as the side pressed for more international recognition.

In 2004 the USA qualified for the ICC Champions Trophy courtesy of an unexpected win in the Six Nations event, but their participation was a poor advertisement, and an ageing and limited side were never competitive.

Behind the scenes, the USA Cricket Association had become a deeply divided group, and in 2005 it was suspended from the ICC for being "dysfunctional" and barred from official tournaments. Although that ban was subsequently lifted, the internal sniping continued, the board remained unaccountable, and the only losers were the USA cricketers.

John Marder and Adrian Cole
Adapted from Barclays World of Cricket (Collins 1980)

Important dates in US cricket

1709 William Byrd of Westover, Virginia, playing cricket with his friends
1737 Mention of cricket in Georgia
1742 Highland Scots celebrate St Andrew's Day in Savannah (Georgia) - founded only nine years before - by playing cricket
1751 A match recorded between New York and a London XI. played "according to the London method"; i.e. presumably in accordance with the 1744 rules
1785 Canadians playing in Montreal
1838 Mexican CC in existence
1844 First match between Canada and the USA
First known century scored in North America - 120 by J. Turner
1859 First touring team to leave England (captain, George Parr) visit the USA and Canada. Their matches drew large crowds and, together with their general experiences on the tour, were well-described by their scorer, Fred Lillywhite, in the first book in the long catalogue of "touring literature"
1874 First team from USA to visit England: team of baseballers who also played cricket
1878 The Australian team visits America on their way back from England
1880 First team from Canada visited England: not representative and the tour terminated prematurely
1884 First Gentlemen of Philadelphia team to visit England
1896 Haverford College toured and played English Public Schools
1903 Kent visit USA
1905 First MCC team visited USA and Canada; captain E. W. Mann
1961 United States Cricket Association founded
1963 Revival of USA v Canada match, last played in 1912
1965 United States elected to Associate membership of ICC
1968 Canada elected to associate membership of ICC
2004 USA wins ICC Six Nations tournament and qualifes for the Champions Trophy
2004 ICC anounces Project USA, a multi-million dollar plan to expand the game. This scrapped in 2005 after a major falling out with the USACA and serious governance issues within the US administration
2005 USACA suspended by the ICC (see above) and banned from all major events

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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