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On the road to nowhere

Martin Williamson on the decline and fall of the USA

Steve Massiah, one of the few to perform with credit, is bowled by Thomas Hansen during the USA's defeat by Denmark © ICC/Cricket Europe
A year ago, USA cricket appeared to be riding on the crest of a wave. The national side had won the Six Nations tournament in Sharjah and had qualified for a place in the Champions Trophy; Project USA, the ICC's initiative to promote the game in the country, was about to be launched; Florida was being considered as a venue to host World Cup matches in 2007; and ProCricket, a domestic Twenty20 tournament involving overseas stars, was on the verge of starting. All was rosy.
A year later and US cricket has plunged into the twilight zone of world cricket and its board has become a virtual pariah. It is hard to see how the slide can be stopped.
The first signs that all was not well came at the Champions Trophy last September. USA were soundly beaten, but that was expected. What was less palatable was the age of the side, and reports that all was not well within the camp.
As the year drew to a close came the initial signs that Project USA, which would have brought international cricket and a fairly hefty investment to the States, was not going according to plan. In the first months of 2005, those issues became public knowledge, and the ICC were moved to write to Gladstone Dainty, the USA Cricket Association president, that it had "never seen a sporting organisation that combines such great potential and such poor administration as USACA," adding that much of the blame laid "with the current office bearers of USACA including yourself." Rather than try to meet the ICC's demands, the USACA decided to take a stand. In March, Project USA was cancelled. With hindsight, it is not hard to see why the USA was also left off the list of venues for the 2007 World Cup.
All this took place against the backdrop of increasingly bitter infighting between the Dainty board and a group of former executive members who had grown angry at the way the USACA was being run. Elections, which should have resolved the stand off, degenerated into near farce, and resulted in a rival board being established and subsequently sued. The cricketing world looked on with increasing bemusement as US cricket imploded The ICC, in the manner of an irritated parent, sent both sides up to their bedrooms and told them to come back downs only when they had resolved their differences. There they remain. To underline the level of exasperation, the USA were not allowed to attend the ICC's annual meeting at Lord's in June.
The ICC Trophy in Ireland gave the USA a chance for redemption, although again the ICC had to intervene to make sure they got there at al,l as the two factions squabbled over team selection. With a prize of $500,000, a place in the 2007 World Cup, and ODI status on offer, this was the time for the USA to come good.
But the squad, picked by the Dainty faction, was virtually the same as the one who had been humiliated in England ten months earlier, and rather than prepare in Ireland and the UK, as most of the other countries did, the USA acclimatised in Jamaica where the conditions were as un-Irish as you could hope to find. Inevitably, the outcome was just as embarrassing.
Back-to-back defeats in the warm-up matches raised concerns, but the real humiliation came when the competition proper started as defeat followed defeat. By the time they were beaten by Bermuda, the USA had become a virtual laughing stock. One observer reported that they looked like a collection of aging individuals hoping against hope that one of them would come good rather than any kind of cohesive unit.
Back home, the USACA was doing an admirable impression of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Even though it received another ultimatum from the ICC over team selection for the Under-19 World Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, reports suggest that it has not taken any steps to find a solution.
And what of ProCricket? After a first year which reportedly lost Kal Patel, its founder, several million dollars, it has disappeared without trace. But Patel has resurfaced in a different guise, having acquired from the USACA the rights to stage one-day internationals in the USA. Even that deal was not straightforward. Gary Hopkins, the man who headed Project USA and a administrator with contacts and experience, had been expected to get those rights and had done quite a bit of the groundwork, had the rug pulled from under him when the contract was awarded to Patel. Another law suit is expected. It is rumoured that the Patel deal gave the USACA the cash it needed to operate and prepare for the ICC Trophy - the ICC had long since suspended all funding - but in taking that short-term solution, it might have landed itself in even more trouble. The only winners in US cricket at the moment are the lawyers.
There are glimmers of hope. Major League Cricket, which has kept well clear of the political infighting, is up and running and the feedback is good. At grass-roots level, there are signs that things are progressing, and at least the sub-amateur management of the national game has been brought into a more public arena.
If US cricket was a public business, the directors would have been hounded out of office a long time ago. Rarely has a board overseen a 12-month period which has been more destructive to its own interests. What US cricket desperately needs is new leadership - and while much of the blame must be aimed at the USACA, many of those heading the opposition to it also need to take a good, hard look in the mirror - and it needs it now.
The next four or five years will be hard, but if it is to have any chance of breaking back into the ICC associates' top six by the time of the 2009 ICC Trophy, then the rebuilding has to start immediately. Many of those involved in the running of the game appear to have put personal ambition and ego before the national good and they have to step down. Sadly, history tends to suggest that is the one thing they won't do.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo