New York reclaim national title
In a repeat of their performance at the inaugural National Championships in 2002, the New York Region emerged from its Eastern Conference and Super League finals with an unbeaten 5-0 record, and defeated second-place Central West Zone (Texas) convincingly in the Championship final to reclaim their National title.
A national US tournament had long been considered an impossibility by observers. The country was too large, its major cricketing centres few and far between, travel costs prohibitive, and there were no funds or infrastructure to sustain a national tournament. The 40-odd cricket leagues and 600 cricket clubs dotted across the landscape were an impressive demonstration of the growth of US cricket in the past decade, but US cricket had remained Balkanized by geography and demographics, and there seemed to be no way out of its situation.
The idea of a national tournament based on territories or zones was first floated by Clive Lloyd and Bernard Cameron of Major League Cricket (MLC), as part of a grand design which was proposed to the USACA board as a way to restructure US cricket. The USACA was less than enthusiastic about working with MLC and indeed, MLC, after a year of operation, seems to have disappeared from the US cricket scene leaving no discernible trace. But the inter-zonal idea for a US national championship survived MLC's apparent demise, and was adopted by USACA as its own program.
USACA's original plan had been to divide the Championship into two, an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference, each comprising four of the eight regions defined by the USACA. Each conference would conduct its own tournament, and the top two from each would meet in a Super League to determine the national winner.
All things considered, the first National Tournament was a success, although not an unqualified one. The Western Conference, held early in the season in the Bay Area, was well-organised and executed. The Eastern Conference was less so: one zone even dropped out because its member-leagues could not agree on a common team or strategy. The finals, in Los Angeles, turned out to be a contest between the Eastand West-coast powerhouses of New York and Los Angeles, with New York emerging as the first champions.
By contrast, the second US National Championships were a disaster. The Western Conference, held this time in Chicago, was riddled with problems; appalling umpiring decisions, atrocious pitches, bad arrangements and a host of other problems. (It was learned later that, in an effort to save money, USACA had left it to host leagues to provide volunteer umpires -- in retrospect, not a wise move.)
In the Eastern Conference, New York were unexpectedly dethroned by the South East Zone (Florida). The finals were almost completely washed out by the aftermath of a major rainstorm in Texas, and the SE Zone emerged as national champions as the winner in the only Super League game.
In 2004, the National Tournament was completely revamped. Both Eastern and Western Conferences were played in Plano (Texas) -- the consolidation evidently helped a great deal, and things went off rather smoothly. New York and Mid Atlantic zones won the Eastern Conference, eliminating SE Zone. The Western Conference yielded two winners, Central Zone (Texas) and the Northwest Zone, both with the same number of points--the big surprise was the elimination of Southern California, whose star-studded line-up wilted under the spirited attack of the Northwest and the two Central Zones.
The full details, statistics and score sheets for the Super League matches can be found at the Southern California Cricket Association web site ( target="new">http://www.scalcricket.org).
The Northwest Region, representing a far corner of the United States which had not been given any respect in US cricket, had entered the Super League with an undefeated Conference record for the first time in their short history. They performed competently enough in the field, restricting New York to 226 runs, but suffered a complete batting collapse, losing 5 wickets in the first 3 overs, and simply could not recover. Their second match, against Mid Atlantic, ended in a tie -- the first one in the history of the tournament.
New York, after disposing of Northwest summarily, turned their attention to Central West (Texas), the team with the best chance of defeating New York according to the experts. This was also a victory for New York, but Central West were without their best batsman who was to be absent for the rest of the tournament.
Mid Atlantic opened with a loss against Central West (Texas) whose star batsman, Sushil Nadkarni, scored a chanceless 111 with 5 sixes--the best single innings of the Super League. Unfortunately, Nadkarni was injured and unable to play for the rest of the tournament. Their second match was the tied game with Northwest, described earlier.
The final was essentially a replay of the second-day match between New York and a Nadkarni-less Central West. New York's batting was uneven but adequate -- excellent batting by the top order, a middle-order collapse, and then a spirited performance by the tailenders to attain a respectable total. Central West opened in fine style, reaching three figures without loss, But a devastating spell of spin bowling by veteran Zamin Amin took out Central West's top and middle orders, and Central West's tailenders simply didn't have the skill and the experience to turn things around.
The consolation match between Northwest and Mid Atantic was something of an anti-climax, and the only one in the Super League to be marred by accusations of bad umpiring. Mid Atlantic scored a competent but unspectacular 220. After that, a series of very doubtful umpiring decisions took out Northwest's best batsmen, and a dispirited Northwest played out their innings for a desultory 150 -- a sad end to a Championship performance that, up to that time, had been its best in US cricket.
So, who was the best batsman in the tournament: Nadkarni, or Steve Massiah? This question has been hotly debated in US cricket circles, and the tournament did not provide a clear answer. Nadkarni had the best single innings of the Super League; Massiah of New York, on the other hand, was the most consistent batsman, scoring between 50 and 100 in all the matches he played. Perhaps, if Nadkarni had not been injured, we would have had a better basis for comparison. As it is, such judgments will have to wait for another match -- or, another championship.