New York v New Jersey, USA Pro Cricket June 21, 2004

A damp squib for starters

Ranajit Sankar Dam

The world of cricket has been rubbing its hands with glee at the mere prospect of professional cricket in the United States, but Saturday's curtain-raiser between two teams representing New York and New Jersey was a low-key affair.

A little more than 150 people were at Staten Island's Richmond County Bank Ballpark to watch the remnants of Ajay Jadeja's cricketing career: around half that number comprised the organisers and stadium security. The rest gamely cheered the wickets and let out the obligatory "We want sixer!" bellows, but they didn't exactly constitute the packed ground full of cricket-hungry expatriates that the organizers, America Pro Cricket LLC, were looking for.

With the ICC refusing to recognise the matches, and the Indian board denying its players permission to participate, the organisers were forced to hastily reschedule the tournament, turning the match into a "pre-season training game".

As a possible result of the ensuing confusion, the organisation overall was distinctly shoddy: sub-par commentators provided painful ball-by-ball remarks over the PA system, the DJ played organ music every time a single was taken, and the local players were made to look like extras - bit-part characters playing second fiddle to the imported Indian discards.

In fact the commentator/DJ evidently could not get enough of Jadeja, incanting his name repeatedly even after he was out, to the point where he once even exulted: "That's a great shot from the Indian captain." Nikhil Chopra, Darren Ganga and Merv Dillon received their 15 seconds of fame as well, while poor Rahul Sanghvi went almost unnoticed.

This is what the organisers are primarily relying on: that the crowds come flocking to see the names they know and trust. One feels for the local talent: one of the purposes of any tournament of this sort should be to strengthen the domestic structure, and a fixation with imported has-beens might do the players here more harm than good.

Onto the cricket, then: New Jersey Fire batted first in glorious late-afternoon sunshine, and dawdled their way through the first 10 overs, before Jadeja clubbed the hapless Ganga for two sixes in the 11th over in an effort to raise the tempo. He personally finished with 40, Chopra made 18, and the Fire ended their allotted 20 overs with 137 for 8.

In response, New York Storm, dressed in a garish blue, blue and pink combination, lost Ganga early and never really recovered. There was some lusty hitting from the lower-middle order, but when Dillon came in as last man the Storm needed 32 from the last two overs and were completely out of it. A run-out put the team out of their collective misery.

The organisers are unwilling to make any comments until the season is officially launched, but it is pretty obvious that the sparse crowd was a dampener on their overall plans for the summer. Admission to the game on Saturday was free, and yet just a handful of New York's significant expatriate Indian - or even West Indian - population chose to turn up for the match. Even television sponsorship might be a difficult way to sustain profitability, given that the South Asians in America now regularly pay to watch international cricket being played by the Indian national team.

What it could lead to, however, is the phenomenon of Ranji Trophy cricketers finding a place to earn an extra bit of money during the summer. Again, the organisers are unwilling to discuss funds, but one assumes that they must have paid a fair amount of money to bring the players halfway around the world to participate in these domestic 20-over matches.

Recognition is the other issue: the ICC doesn't recognise the tournament, neither does the USACA. It could be argued that the Australian Cricket Board didn't recognise Packer initially, either, so it might just come down to how profitable it becomes.

But if, by some chance, the rest of the season draws crowds much like this, it could be a long, hot summer for America Pro Cricket.

Ranajit Sankar Dam is a contributor to Wisden Cricinfo, based in New York.