ICC offers outline for development of USA cricket
The ICC's local advisory group in the USA, appointed after the USA Cricket Association was suspended in June, has offered an outline for its strategic plan to grow the game further in the country after years of governance battles. The outline includes ambitious targets to have USA qualify for the 2019 World Cup, 2020 World Twenty20, and a proposal to host the 2024 World Twenty20 when allocations are made following the conclusion of the current ICC rights cycle from 2015-2023.
Following up on the ICC's town hall meeting in August, ICC head of global development Tim Anderson held town hall meetings in eight cities around the country during November. Anderson believes that solid progress has been made in putting a strategy together with the local advisory group, a strategy which may help to unite the disparate factions in order to make USA's on-field goals achievable.
"The general sentiment has been extremely positive in terms of the direction," Anderson told ESPNcricinfo. "It has three major pillars: participation, performance and fan & market development with an underlying pillar of a sustainable foundation to achieve those things. The general sentiment so far is that the community thinks that the document is on the right track which is really encouraging."
One of the highlights of the outline is to enhance infrastructure, fan and market development in the USA to the point where the country might be able to host the 2024 World T20. Alternately, USA may be able to offer a role in the push for getting a T20 cricket competition into the Olympics if Los Angeles, with four turf pitches already available at Woodley Park, wins the right to host the 2024 Summer Games ahead of Rome, Budapest or Paris, cities which have no turf cricket facilities.
The near-term objectives laid out in the plan are to help USA's administrators starting at the local level by encouraging more development initiatives for active player recruitment and involvement. Several players and local administrators have given praise to the ICC for conducting its first open selection combine in September which was used to pick a combined 15-man squad for next month's Nagico Super50.
There is some possibility that a similar trial may be coordinated by the ICC at the domestic level for the purpose of selecting USA regional or national teams. In particular, there is a push by some being made to have a similar process employed to select USA's team for World Cricket League Division Four, due to be held next summer, with a near-term ICC goal being that USA finishes in the top two to gain promotion. A subsequent promotion to Division Two could see USA be included in the next cycle of the ICC Intercontinental Cup and WCL Championship.
Such plans continue the ICC's commitment that cricketers in the country should not be punished while USACA remains suspended. USACA was required to gain approval for a revised constitution by October, with a vote to be taken on ratifying it next year, as part of 39 terms and conditions laid out for reinstatement as an Associate member. However, Anderson says that USACA is still a long way off.
"USACA has submitted some information around the reinstatement conditions," Anderson said. "The ICC board considered that amount of information at its meeting in October but determined that not enough had been provided so the suspension remains in place. An update on the USA will be received by the ICC board at its next meeting in January or February."
Though expulsion of USACA at the June 2016 ICC annual conference remains a possibility, Anderson says that the ICC has done what it can to make sure USACA is part of the town hall meeting and the overall draft strategy process to unite all stakeholders going forward.
"We are attempting to consult with USACA as part of this whole process," Anderson said. "We have had some USACA leagues and USACA representatives at some of the meetings already which is good and important. They are a very important part of the community.
"They have been invited. The unification of the cricket community is a stated objective of this process and that includes USACA. It's not that everybody else is unifying and USACA isn't there. That's not really what we want to achieve. We want everybody to be a part of the process."
As for infrastructure development necessary to be able to host large scale events such as a World T20 or Olympic cricket event, Anderson said the Cricket All-Stars tour was significant for the ability to put in practice the use of drop-in pitches at baseball facilities. Drop-in wickets were cultivated in Indianapolis before being driven to each venue and installed in the days leading to each match.
A major obstacle that has put a dampener on events at the Central Broward Regional Park in Florida, the only ICC certified cricket pitch in the USA, has been inconsistent quality of pitches. Though the All-Stars venues were not ideal in terms of boundary size, Anderson says the tour was important to at least open up some minds in terms of what is possible for accessing other venues with a drop-in pitch.
"Playing in iconic stadia on a good wicket, and I don't think we can underestimate having a good drop-in wicket which is a new thing that's never happened before, I think that's really positive," Anderson said. "Another one of the reasons why we were interested in this concept is that we had never really seen how big cricket in baseball stadiums would even look or feel. We had no idea really. I think it's fair to say they are too small for ODI cricket or official international cricket but it was important to go through that process.
"Whether there are other venues in the country where you can put a drop-in wicket in, the ground authorities probably needed to be convinced that putting in a drop-in wicket was okay and I think they are now okay. So that information will spread around pretty quickly. So whether it is for future All-Stars games, other exhibition cricket or ultimately international cricket, that becomes a real option. That's probably been an important positive out of this as well."
As for the success of the tour, the total combined attendance for the three Cricket All-Stars matches was 65,116. Only the first match at New York's Citi Field drew a crowd of better than 50% capacity, with a total figure of 27,916 in the 45,000-seat stadium while Houston's 42,000-seat Minute Maid Park drew 16,300 for a weeknight game. However, Anderson views the raw numbers positively.
"Given this has been put together a little bit at the last minute - I think the organizers would have liked a little bit more time - I think it is a really encouraging result," Anderson said. "Whether it's detrimental to have empty seats, I suppose the way I think about it is would you rather the games are played with some empty seats or not be played at all? I'd rather they be played with some empty seats. I think that's a positive and a platform to work on."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna