USA cricket landscape still under haze
Less than a mile from the site of the World Sports Park that until Friday was due to host the USA Cricket Association National Championships, a roadside billboard loomed last fall like a bad omen over the rural landscape. It depicted a cartoon gator advertising web design solutions. That same gator frequently popped up on USACA's old web site in 2012, chomping away while informing visitors the site had broken down. The tournament is now gone from Indianapolis. Meanwhile, USACA is running back to stadium officials in Florida.
One thing that stood out in the termination letter written by Indy Parks and Recreation Director John W Williams to USACA on Friday was the city's frustration over USACA's lack of communication. It is one of USACA's hallmarks in its decade of leadership under Gladstone Dainty. The president and his cohorts are known for their opaqueness, routinely ignoring requests for basic information. The US cricket community generally shrugs it off without making much noise, but a large-scale municipality that has hosted a Super Bowl and six NCAA Final Fours would not tolerate it, especially for an event bringing in next to no revenue.
Marc Lotter, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's director of communications, was quick and sure in his responses to various questions over the decision to cut ties with USACA. Though when Lotter was asked, "Did you feel that USACA was approaching this event in a professional manner," he paused before stating, "I'm not going to speak of our relationship with any of the existing partners except to say that we hope to work well in the future."
Former USACA chief executive Darren Beazley had tried to foster an open dialogue not just with Indianapolis but the public at large during his 14-month tenure. In that time, he issued countless press releases touting USACA as "the peak body for the sport in the USA." Regardless of the amount of goodwill Beazley projected, his departure has once again lifted the facade to reveal not a hulking Adonis but a skin and bones specimen.
Although some supporters have sought to portray Beazley as a martyr, he is far from blameless for USACA's state of affairs. One of his first acts was encouraging selectors to tear down the senior team squad by dropping what he deemed unfit experienced veterans in favor of ill-prepared younger players on the eve of USA's most important tournament of 2013. Beazley claimed the move was the first step to professionalise the teams, yet USACA is decades away from having a proper professional structure, one Beazley promised to build on and off the field before ditching the organisation. The result was that USA missed out on millions in ICC funding by failing to qualify for both the 50-over and T20 World Cups.
Beazley is also partially at fault for the burned bridges in Indianapolis and Lauderhill. Beazley spurned the adequate albeit underused stadium in Florida for greener pastures in Indiana but didn't stick around to see the event through to a natural conclusion. Lauderhill stadium manager Duncan Finch told ESPNcricinfo that USACA spent seven months ignoring requests to pay a deposit for the Auty Cup and Beazley was in office for the majority of that time. According to Finch, the breakdown in talks last year to host Pakistan and West Indies plus Caribbean Premier League matches happened under Beazley's watch. USA was also offered a precious spot in the WICB regional Super50 in February which Beazley declined.
Then there was Beazley's misguided attempt at doubling USACA membership fees to offset the 47% dip in membership revenue the association experienced in the wake of disenfranchising two-thirds of its leagues ahead of the 2012 election. USACA backtracked when leagues balked at paying and instead told them that in lieu of sending money to the association, they could ensure membership by demonstrating an equivalent expenditure on youth development projects. So two years after USACA disbarred 32 member leagues ostensibly for not paying membership fees, any league can now be a member without paying a dime to the parent organisation. It's part of a desperate scramble to prevent members from jumping off its rudderless ship and joining the American Cricket Federation (ACF).
Many people are clamouring for the ICC to enforce a change and the ACF is a convenient alternative. Arguably the biggest selling point for people looking to side with the ACF is that they are not USACA. However, that may be in name only. The "new" governing body was formed almost entirely by disgruntled ex-USACA personalities, a manoeuver labeled by some as politically expedient.
Jamie Harrison has demonstrated bold leadership since being appointed ACF's chief executive, but he has a long way to go to demonstrate that the ACF is capable of being a fully functioning governing body. Although the ACF is not saddled with $3 million in debt like USACA, it still has not shown signs of generating significant revenue streams. ACF has used an aggressive social media campaign to publicise its American Cricket Champions League, but the competition could not get through its first match before a director from the ACF's Southern California Cricket Association discredited the competition as a farce.
USACA has shown an inability to properly safeguard members from associating with banned cricketers such as Danish Kaneria and Mohammad Ashraful at locally organised events. However, the ACF is not much better in this area with the SCCA's Kamal Azeez, an ACF league president, publicly stating his approval of banned players participating in his league because their on-field skills offer great value. Ashraful has been happy to ply his trade there with no objection from Harrison.
The USA cricket landscape is increasingly becoming a free for all. While the ICC stands idle, both USACA and the ACF appear ready to duel. Only time will tell if the ICC is willing to take a more proactive stance and officiate on the draw.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna