Under-19 World Cup January 27, 2006

A lack of support cannot dampen squad's enthusiasm

For the first time ever in the history of cricket, the United States is sending a team to a World Cup Tournament. Its youngsters are setting sail into (for them) the perilous waters of international cricket, to meet up with the best of their peers in Sri Lanka.

One would imagine that this would be an occasion for a national celebration of sorts. But even in the US enclaves where cricket is usually the spectator sport of choice, there is an odd kind of disconnect - lip service is paid to the achievement, but has not been matched by the support that one would expect on such an auspicious occasion. Whether this is symptomatic of a general malaise afflicting US cricket, or whether it is just that junior cricket in the USA has simply not caught on as a worthwhile cause with the majority of US cricketers, it is difficult to say. All that is known for sure is that support for the youngsters who are making their pioneering journey has not been easy to come by, and in fact has been somewhat underwhelming.

Consider the case of a souvenir booklet to mark this historic occasion, a brainchild of Laks Sampath who floated the idea a few months ago. The board of the USA Cricket Association (USACA), of which Sampath is a member, listened to his idea with perfunctory interest but did not (at first) seem inclined to do anything about it. Sampath obtained the U-19 team profiles and pictures directly from the USACA treasurer, and the executive and board profiles from their Web site.

But only four of the eight US regions sent in any information on their regional activities. And, when it came to advertisements and donations, many regions did not bother to collect a single penny for the cause, and US clubs and leagues did not even take advantage of the offer to keep 50% of their advertisement and donation receipts for the booklet as a once-time opportunity to earn some useful revenues. As if to add insult to injury, the ICC forbade use of their logo and that of the World Cup on the USA booklet. The souvenir booklet will probably break even, but any hope of raising money for the U-19 team vanished into thin air before the U-19 team set sail for Sri Lanka.

The USACA itself came up short in meeting ICC requirements to receive the money that had already been allocated for the USA U-19 team. Given its refrain that "USACA has no money", its forfeiting the $10,000 that the ICC had earmarked for the USA's U-19 World Cup preparations was nothing short of outrageous. Yet that is precisely what USACA seems to have ended up doing. It has not submitted the audited accounts that was due last September last year, and it has failed so far to come up with a consensus resolution to its legal disputes that could have satisfied the NY courts. Perhaps the USACA had weightier things on its mind, but it is clear that the U-19 team was not one of them.

Meanwhile, it was refreshing to see that the U-19 team had managed to steer clear of the brambles and the pitfalls in their path to Sri Lanka, and has even developed something of an attitude. The team is essentially the same "Cinderella" squad that shocked and pulverized its opposition in Canada, remaining not only unbeaten but winning almost all their matches with several wickets to spare.

Then, regrouping after a squabble of several months among their elders over selection and training matters, they played two warm-up matches in Florida with a strong USACA Team consisting of first-team senior players. They were in fine fettle, losing the first match but hitting their stride in the second. before leaving for their offshore adventures.

The team's arrival at Hyderabad proved to be an enervating experience. An impressive delegation of officials from the state association braved the arrival time (2 am) to welcome the visitors from the USA, and the new Lal Bahadur stadium was the venue for a crowded press conference where a gaggle of curious journalists and TV cameras showed up with questions on every aspect of US cricket--the idea of cricket in the USA is one that many Indians still find hard to accept! USA obliged with a four-wicket victory over the Hyderabad U-17 team, an auspicious start to their overseas adventure, and their sixth victory out of seven matches they have played from Canada to Florida and India in the last few months.

Deb K Das is Cricinfo's correspondent in the USA