US cricket pioneer Severn passes away at 88
Cliff Severn, a former USA national team player and pioneer in Southern California cricket, died on Wednesday at the age of 88. Severn was a longtime member of the Los Angeles cricket community and many players and supporters have taken to social media to mourn his passing.
"A US Cricket legend, true lover and devotee of cricket," wrote Madhukar "Mark" Sood, a member of the Southern California Cricket Association board of directors. "God bless and RIP. There will be cricket in heaven now."
Clifford EB Severn was born in London on September 21, 1925, and was the second-oldest of eight children to Dr Clifford B Severn, of South Africa, and mother Rachel, an Afrikaner. Dr Severn moved the family back to South Africa and then Los Angeles in 1933, where all eight of the children went on to have varying degrees of success in the Hollywood film industry. Clifford EB Severn is listed on IMDB for having roles in 18 movies including 1938's A Christmas Carol, a starring role in 1940's Gaucho Serenade alongside famous American cowboy movie star Gene Autry, and a small part in legendary director John Ford's 1941 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, How Green Was My Valley.
Severn played cricket for Hollywood CC in his youth alongside former England Test cricketer and actor Sir Aubrey Smith. At age 18, he quit his acting career to join the British Army in South Africa during World War II. Upon his return to Los Angeles, he became increasingly active in the local cricket community. His father left Hollywood CC and, together with Cliff, created Britamer Cricket Club in 1947, one of the oldest clubs in the SCCA. Severn remained loyal to Britamer CC as a player and administrator for 50 years. Along with Cliff, two other brothers also wound up playing for the USA - Winston and Raymond.
"He was colourblind in the sense that he really wanted to bring anyone and all people to this game of cricket," Severn's son Cliff told ESPNcricinfo. "When he went on a trip, he would always bring a cricket bat and would always try to take one on a plane with him. If he ran into someone from a cricket country, whether it was India, Australia, Bangladesh, he would approach them and start talking cricket. If they lived in California, he would try to get them to join because a lot of people come to this country not realising cricket is played here. He brought a lot of people into Southern California cricket."
Severn made his USA debut as a 39-year-old alongside 22-year-old brother Winston in 1965, against Canada, at Calgary's Riley Park as part of the longest running international rivalry in international cricket now known as the Auty Cup. He batted at six making 26 and 4 in the drawn two-day match. A year later in the return contest at The Sir C Aubrey Smith Field in Los Angeles, Severn opened the batting for USA while making 24 and 8 in USA's 54-run win.
The Sir C Aubrey Smith Field had opened in 1933 and was part of Griffith Park in Los Angeles where cricket was played from 1898 until 1978 when the property was seized and turned into an equestrian facility for the 1984 Summer Olympics. The SCCA acquired three grounds at Woodley Park in the nearby suburb of Van Nuys as a substitute for the space lost at Griffith Park. The fourth and final ground at Woodley's Leo Magnus Cricket Complex was acquired in the mid 1990s and is named the Severn Ground after the patriarch of the family, "Doc" Severn.
Aside from his involvement with Britamer CC and Hollywood CC, Severn also helped establish University Cricket Club initially as a vehicle for students at UCLA, where he went to college, before membership opened up to the broader cricket community. Outside of Los Angeles, he also co-founded Stanford Cricket Club in the Northern California Cricket Association and remained an active player in social cricket matches around the Los Angeles area until he suffered a stroke at the age of 85 in October 2010. Severn also battled through a series of smaller strokes to keep playing for another year into 2011. Despite the complications, he continued to turn out at Woodley to watch and stay involved in the camaraderie of the game.
"One of the nicest gentlemen I have ever met my entire life," wrote USA offspinner Abhimanyu Rajp. "He did more for cricket in USA, SCCA, than one could ever know. 'I wish I had your spin,' he claimed to me once. That was an honour in itself. There is a field named after his family here at the Leo Magnus Cricket Complex. But I bet a lot of people don't know why. It's a great loss to the cricket community. His legacy will live on long after him."
Severn is survived by his wife of 46 years, Percy, his brothers Winston and Christopher, as well as son Clifford and daughter Catherine.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna