One of cricket’s major problems, for which the ICC is totally responsible, is their failure to grow the game in countries outside of the Full Members. Other than World Cups in 20 and 50 over cricket, which take place every four years, and the occasional bilateral ODI series there is little interaction between Full Member and Associate. This leads me, at least, to taking an interest in matches and tournaments lower down the Associate scale, to try and sniff out where cricket could be the next big thing.
With that in mind, my interest this week has shifted to the west, with the ICC Americas qualifying T20 tournament for the forthcoming World Cup taking place in the United States.
I’ve recently become interested in cricket in the USA, as it is a vast untapped resource for growing the sport and would be a massive presence on the world stage. The first official international cricket match took place between the USA and Canada in 1844 in New York, so there has in fact been a long history of cricket in this region. Coupled with a population of 320 million and you have the potential for the next big success story in cricket. The ICC are pushing this at the moment too, with ICC chief Dave Richardson making noises about growing cricket in America recently. But at the moment the national team are languishing in Division 4 of the World Cricket League and far off the pace. What’s going wrong?
Well, part of the reason must be the competition cricket has from other, entrenched sports such as baseball, American football, etc. Cricket, although with plenty of fans in the States, has not branched out much further than pockets of immigrant communities scattered throughout the country. There is little domestic structure; most players play in their own leagues and only come together as a national side on a very infrequent basis. The national governing body USACA has a long history of mismanagement of both the national team and the day-to-day stuff, with players ill-prepared for tournaments with little or no personal training and coaching.
The ICC are aware of this and sent a letter to the President of USACA expressing their concerns earlier this year. There is a real chance USACA could be suspended from the ICC in June, which would be another serious step backwards for the country. There is a rival governing body the ACF, who sprang up in frustration with the continual paralysis of development in the USA. They appear to be on a more sound financial footing than USACA and have a fledging domestic structure in place, but whether they would be able to contend in a power struggle post-June to become the national governing body is another matter. It’s all a bit of the mess off the field and I would think it would be years before the USA were in a position to qualify for a World Cup, for example.
But despite all this there is the odd green shoot appearing. The USA have won four matches out of five in the Americas T20 to go through to the main T20 qualifier in Ireland and Scotland in July. To be fair, this is the bare minimum for the side, with their wins coming over inferior opposition in Bermuda and Suriname. Their solitary defeat so far was to Canada, their main rival in this region and a team they are still beneath in quality. This should be the first bar for the USA, to become the best team in the Americas region. They have had a young squad for this tournament with a lot of new players, and have some exciting talent in Fahad Babar and Timil Patel. Dare I say it, there is a bit of hope here. The tournament has been played at a new turf facility in Indianapolis which can only help the players development – turf wickets in America are still few and far between.
It would be a long shot for the USA to qualify for the World T20 tournament next year, almost impossible in fact as the strongest Associate nations lie in wait. With the best will in the world beating teams such as Ireland and Afghanistan is surely a step too far. But if it happened that would be a massive shot in the arm for the world game and for development in the USA. To get kids to play the game they need national heroes to emulate and a media to show and report on them. Qualification for the T20 World Cup would provide both, and could help cricket reach another of the game’s frontiers.
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