Cricket across the nation February 14, 2005

Elsewhere in USA

Cricket in Hawaii © Cricinfo
As more than 16,000 regular US cricketers get ready for the 2005 season at over 100 venues across the country, a lot of US cricket will be played in unlikely places - and in some decidedly unusual contexts. Here is a look at some examples. All of them exist elsewhere in the States, i.e. outside the USA Cricket Association (USACA). Yet they contribute immeasurably to the warp and woof of cricket in this country - a point worth making, since so many reports deal with the USACA, to the neglect of the rest of US cricket.

Here I shall concentrate exclusively on non-USACA local programs or initiatives, also excluding ProCricket and the US Cricket Academy which have been dealt with separately. For the same reason, I am leaving out non-USACA programs conducted by USACA member clubs and leagues, although many of them deserve commendation. My point is to demonstrate how much US cricket is going on in the non-USACA world, and how cricket in the USA is flourishing even as the USACA and its member clubs lurch from crisis to catastrophe.

In New York itself, there are two "softball cricket leagues" comprising perhaps 100 teams that will play full seasons and tournaments in 2005. "Softball cricket", played with weighted tennis balls and without protective equipment or prepared pitches, is obviously less expensive to play than traditional cricket, and is popular in Guyana and other Caribbean countries. The softball cricket leagues play fast 20- or 30-over games, enjoy considerable support in ethnic communities, and the sport is now being picked up at other places.

Also in New York is the Bangladeshi Cricket Association, which is listed by, but does not participate in, the USACA. The Bangladeshi Cricket Association is unique to US cricket, in two respects. Its membership is composed entirely of individual subscribers, unlike most USACA leagues -most of them happen to be Bangladeshi taxi-cab owners or drivers, and, as a group, seem to be rather well-heeled. It is also the only semi-professional league in the USA; it awards pay-for-play contracts to selected players, an offer which has been taken up by many top non-Bangladeshi cricketers in the New York region. Both its finances and its operations are a closely guarded secret, but its model for "mixed" cricket can be seen as a precursor to ProCricket's strategy.

Halfway around the world, in the Pacific Ocean, sits the Hawaii Cricket Association, the westernmost outpost of US cricket. Proud owners of one of the most scenic cricket grounds in the USA, the Hawaii CA plays against the backdrop of the Diamond Head in Honolulu, in a climate that can only be rhapsodized about as "salubrious". The local cricketers are a mix of Anzacs, British ex-pats and South Asian students and immigrants. There are probably enough of them to constitute a cricket league, but most of their matches are with teams from Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, other Pacific "Associate"countries, Canada and the US West Coast. The visitors clearly enjoy vacations in Honolulu along with their cricket, and this seems to be one of Hawaii CA's major enticements.

The Compton Homies & Popz is a Southern California team with decidedly unusual antecedents. First started as an innovative experiment, its original plan was to use cricket as an alternative expression for ghetto kids (the "Homies") who were mentored by senior ghetto residents with cricket backgrounds (the "Popz"). Over the years, the Homies&Popz have toured the West Indies and England, and got into the finals of the First Aboriginal Peoples World Cup at Lords (an event that was won, incidentally, by the Australian Aboriginal team); and now plays in a 10-team amateur cricket league in California with no ties to the Southern California Cricket Association. The Homies & Popz have been featured in magazines and TV shows, and there is talk of a Hollywood feature film in 2005 featuring their rise and success.

In the heartland of Cajun cookery and zydeco music sits the Crescent City Cricket Club of New Orleans, one of the oldest cricket clubs in the USA (dating back to 1902). Its origins are shrouded in complete mystery, although legend ascribes its founding to immigrants who were escaping the incursions of baseball in Eastern states after the Civil War and wanted to preserve their sport - much the same explanation that is sometimes offered for the origins of cricket in California. Crescent City CC has survived as a "Port of Call" for visiting teams from the Caribbean, as well from Texas and California. When last heard from, Crescent City CC was trying to get a cricket league started with eight teams from Louisiana ad Mississippi, with itself as a coordinating center; if the effort has failed for now, it may well be re-tried in 2005.

A traditional view of US cricket is that it is a perimeter phenomenon, limited to the upper tier states, the east and west coasts, and now perhaps the coastal south. The US heartland, also called "red" or "Bush" country, was long considered immune to subversive influences, particularly alien sports such as cricket. Yet, even here, the walls are beginning to crumble.

Cricket in Memphis © Cricinfo
In Utah and Kansas, two Australians with passionate commitments to cricket have taken it upon themselves to promote junior cricket to the maximum degree that their personal resources will allow. In Utah, Cliff Hooper is doing the rounds of schools, talking to Phys Ed instructors, setting up holiday camps for youngsters, and trying to get elementary schools in Utah to adopt cricket as an alternative in their extra-curricular programs. Edward Fox, in Kansas, has set up the Kansas Cricket Association catering exclusively to junior cricket, and is busy constructing a first-class cricket pitch on his own land, his "field of dreams" as others call it. Hooper has been a fervent advocate for the Twenty20 format for senior cricket as well, and he and Fox have been offering USACA and its member leagues their assistance in promoting junior cricket across the USA. Needless to say, USACA leadership has never taken them upon their offers--it has been preoccupied with its own problems, and probably has no idea what to do with Hooper and Fox even if it wanted to pay attention.

Arizona Cricket Association has been in existence for some time, and has conducted a well-organized league with between eight and 12 teams. Because of its climate (Phoenix has a climate almost identical to Delhi in India) its season is a winter one, from about November to March. But it has never joined USACA - a deliberate choice on their part - leaving Southern California as the only member league in USACA's Southwest Region. At one time, Arizona was trying to join the US cricket mainstream with inter-league tours and matches with Los Angeles and Colorado. These initiatives languished in the face of indifference from USACA and Southern California, and Arizona now seems content to pursue its own goals.

In Iowa and Indiana, cricket has been really picking up after a three-year hiatus. An early attempt to start a league based on Des Moines failed when many players moved out of the area following a business downturn. Then a transplanted cricketer from the Bay area decided to try again, and now a flourishing cricket league has started in the area around the Iowa/Indiana border. The Iowa/Indiana cricketers also enlisted the support of civic leaders in the area - something that few cricket leagues have attempted, or succeeded in - and a local park is being modified to house a cricket stadium with technical advice from grounds experts in England. A league operation will be attempted in 2005, and it should be firmly established by 2006.

Nashville, in Tennessee, saw a similar history. Three years ago, a Nashville cricket league was in the works, but was seemingly stillborn. Then, this year, there is talk of a cricket festival involving teams from around Tennessee, and including participants from other states like South Carolina. If the cricket festival is successful, efforts will be made to put Tennessee cricket on a permanent footing, with a league and a schedule. It remains to be seen whether this will be accomplished in 2005,but the prognosis is a promising one.

This report is a necessarily incomplete one, and will be updated or added to as space and time permits. Enough has been demonstrated, I hope, to show how much more there is to cricket in the USA than what goes in the USACA. The parlor games and hi-jinks associated with USACA can become claustrophobic if this larger view is not occasionally resorted to. That is both an excuse an explanation, before we return to weightier national topics.