The United States of America. Land of the free, sporting giant, the greatest country in the world. Blessed with an enormous population and vibrantly multi-cultural society, Americans have the resources to succeed at absolutely anything. Or rather, anything except cricket, which has been left far behind as American squads in innumerable sports find success around the globe. Why, exactly, does American cricket languish so far behind even sports like rugby?
Well, governance is a pretty major problem. The United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) governs the sport in this vast country with the moral compass of a particularly vindictive third-world dictator. Even the usually laissez-faire ICC has lost patience with them on more than one occasion, often consigning them to a temporary exile, or demotion to the very lowest ranks of Associate cricket. USACA likes to cast out those leagues with their own views as to how the country should be run, doesn't like to run national tournaments, and cares little about how it appears to the rest of the world. USACA is like a power-hungry set of school governors who've accidentally taken control of the nation's education system, and like the feeling despite not having the slightest clue of what they're doing.
There is an alternative. The American Cricket Federation, led by Jamie Harrison of the United States Youth Cricket Association, seeks to establish an alternative to USACA. They are hampered by the fact that they are the rebel board, trying to combat authority from a position with none. USACA is recognised by the ICC, they alone have the right to send out representative American teams, and they alone receive direct funding from the powers that be. This leaves the ACF in a pretty lousy position.
Not that that is stopping them. The USYCA started off with one man wanting to give cricket sets to schools. He had very few resources at his disposal, and no official backing, but he went about his business industriously and effectively. With the same man in charge of the ACF, the sky might just be the limit. It is a pity, then, that you always end up wondering about the motives of any American cricket administrator, no matter how squeaky-clean his resume. It's evolution, I guess, that makes us naturally suspicious of dogs if we've been bitten by one in the past, even if this a pleasant springer spaniel, and we were bitten by an Alsatian.
American cricket wasn't always baseball's little brother.
Of course, cricket wasn't always the David in a legion of American sporting Goliaths. Once upon a time, the Philadelphians were a first-class side the match of any county team. With names like John Lester, George Patterson and the legendary Bart King, the United States at the turn of the century would have made a decent Test team. They often attracted touring Test sides, then defeated them to add insult to injury. The oldest international fixture, as any good cricket historian is aware, is now known as the Auty Cup: America versus Canada.
The cricket ground it was played on is no more. In its place: tower blocks. Progress.
The thought of the present day American side playing against Test nations is pretty laughable. We got a fair insight into that in the 2004 Champions' Trophy, when their antipodean opposition utterly humiliated what has to be the oldest One-Day International team in cricket history.
There's a pretty strong generation of players now, to be fair, Not in the calibre of your Pattersons and Kings. but exceptionally gifted for the level at which they play. Steven Taylor, for instance, is still not yet 20, but would have been the captain of his country if not for his off-field antics. This year alone, he has kept wicket well; scored a brace of tons in the Americas T20, hit a 97 against Bermuda in the World Cricket League that backed up his 102-ball 162 against Nepal, and taken five for two with the ball for the Under-19s. As Geoffrey Boycott would say, the lad can play a bit.
Around him are the likes of Sushil Nadkarni, the ex-India Under-19; William Perkins, the West Indies International; Neil McGarrell, the West Indian Test player; Steve Massiah, the Guyana-born batsman; Muhammad Ghous, the hugely promising young spinner; Ryan Corns, an all-rounder who has long been tipped for big things; Akeem Dodson, the dreadlock-flaunting left handed keeper-batsman who hits a very clean ball. The talent pool is not the issue in America, even with so little of it actually being touched by USACA.
Steven Taylor is the most promising American in years. Born: Florida.
Personally, if I was the ICC, I would be wanting to take a much more pro-active stance in America. If they really think that America is the best place to make cricket popular, they've got to do more than poking the West Indies and telling them to play a couple of Twenty20s at Lauderhill. Personally, I think that the ACF should be handed the reigns of American cricket. Whether for internal or logistical reasons, USACA has proved itself to be perennially incompetent; it's time someone else had a shot. In addition, I think USYCA should be the sole organisation committed to developing participation amongst schools nation-wide. They have shown what they can do on a shoe-string budget; they deserve the chance to flex their muscles a bit.
Finally, I think there's a place for American College Cricket, too. It has been the sole nation-wide cricket competition that has continued to run passably in the vacuum left be board room bickering at USACA. Whatever his motives, the man behind the Chanderpaul Trophy has managed to organise a competition that brings some of the best young players in America together on a cricket field. USACA has not been able to do this. If the ACF, USYCA and ACC were to work together, then there's just a possibility that something approaching progress could start happening.
Or so they say.