Youth cricket in United States August 9, 2008

In the eye of the beholder

He was all of ten years old, a bright-eyed youngster who was sharing a tent with me at what passed for a pavilion on a rainy afternoon in Texas.

"So you are from Cricinfo." It was a statement, not a question. I said I was. I added that I was here to report on the major inter-league tournament in the region, and was looking for some exciting cricket.

The kid shook his head in disgust. "It's no use. These guys are sissies. They won't play. I was supposed to be here as 12th man, and now I won't even get to field."

Well, I said, they may have good reasons not to play. The groundsmen seemed to be trying hard to get the pitch in working condition, sopping up excess water with what looked like a giant black hose. They were putting the tarpaulin pitch covers back on, then reluctantly taking them off again alternating mood cycles of hope, then despair.

The real problem was not in the centre of the field. It was in the rest of the well-manicured ground, where shallow pools of water dotted the landscape with few open spaces in between. A deep fielder backpedalling to catch a sky-high shot could slip and slide into a particularly nasty puddle, risking a serious sprain or even a compound fracture below one's knee. No wonder the cricketers would be reluctant to resume play.

"Nah, they are just sissies," the kid insisted. "Look up there." He pointed at the fast-moving clouds, which were offering brief glimpses of a murky sun that had been absent most of the day. "Well, I will go play with my team now". He pointed to the neighbouring field, where perhaps 20 kids were preparing the pitch and setting up boundary markers around it. "A real sticky wicket," he announced gleefully. "I never played on a sticky wicket before."

One of the tournament organisers who had been assigned to me as my host for the event came over to apologize. "All the way from Seattle, and nothing to see. What a waste of time. I am sorry."

You are wrong, I wanted to tell him. I saw, first hand, what cricket felt like to the kids who played it. Here, right in front of me, were the bright-eyed kids whose muscles would flex and harden, whose fielding would become ever more supple and sure-handed, and the sparkle in whose eyes, far from being extinguished by time, would steady into lambent flames. Here, before my eyes, stood the next generation of US cricketers who will represent us around the globe within the next decade, setting standards of spirit and performance that will be the envy of the cricket world.

Well, kids, I am glad to have met you - not at an awkward school assembly, but under wide open skies, in your very own field of dreams.

Seeing that was worth every minute of my trip. Yes, I was glad I came.

Deb K Das is Cricinfo's correspondent in the USA