Successful USA cricket team can help grow the game globally
It is nearly 175 years since the USA met Canada in what is widely acknowledged to be the world’s first international. That is in any sport, not just cricket.
The story of cricket stateside since has been chequered at best, a victim of the Civil War, British imperial mentality and the rise of baseball among other things.
But the narrative could be about to change; the USA’s 84-run win against Hong Kong in Namibia means the Americans have achieved ODI status and they will play in the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2.
By joining Nepal, Scotland and the UAE alongside their fellow qualifiers in the new second-tier of one-day international cricket, the USA are now guaranteed 36 one-day internationals between now and the end of 2021.
Each nation in the seven-team league will play three home matches and three away matches per opponent, with a points table determining their potential pathway to the 2023 Cricket World Cup.
As with 2019, there will only be ten teams at that tournament – with a maximum of two from outside international cricket’s top tier – but expansion below the new “Super League” will help grow the game.
And the USA, arguably one of the key centres for the future of the global game, have put a torrid few years behind them to earn their place in that.
In 2015, ICC chief executive David Richardson said the United States had ‘enormous potential’ in the game and there is no question the size of the US sports market makes it a key area to conquer.
Former Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland is among those to have lent his voice calls for the USA to host major cricket tournaments further down the line.
But a successful USA team is just as key if cricket truly wants a slice of the American pie, and USA Cricket’s achievement in Namibia is a big milestone in that journey.
All the components are there for the USA to make a great fist of this now, having put governance issues – and a subsequent ICC expulsion – behind them.
The new administrators of the game stateside, USA Cricket, could not have asked for a better start with star names to market and big fixtures to look forward to.
— USA Cricket (@usacricket) April 24, 2019
Back from the dead
It is a remarkable rise, considering the United States of America Cricket Association was expelled from the ICC as recently as 2017 due to concerns over governance and finances.
It was the latest in a long line of blows to the sport: expulsion from the 2005 ICC Intercontinental Cup; suspension over an internal dispute related to their constitution in 2007; and further suspension in 2015, which resulted in ICC funding being cut off.
It was not always like that. In fact, after the first international match against the touring Canadians, cricket was, according to American history expert Tim Lockley, ‘by far the biggest sport [in the USA] in this period’.
The decline started as a result of the Civil War, according to Lockley, while Deb Das points to a refusal to follow the suit of the English and Australians and embrace a professional system as a key factor too.
Das’ history of cricket in the USA also points to Britain’s imperial thinking – specifically excluding countries from outside the empire being stakeholders in the new Imperial Cricket Conference – furthering the decline.
An all-too-brief renaissance, in which the USA qualified for the ICC Champions Trophy in England in 2004 and played its only ODIs to date – defeats to New Zealand and Australia – was not capitalized upon.
But the global game is changing, and USA cricket could one day return to the forefront again.
The new governing body, USA Cricket, has promised to grow and develop the sport at all levels and their international stars have done their bit in Namibia.
Led by Ali Khan’s bowling – his stunning inswinging yorker to remove in-form Hong Kong captain Anshuman Rath set America on the way to victory in that game – the country has some new sporting heroes.
Anshuman Rath. Probably the best bat in Associates cricket. Ali Khan. Probably the best bowler. Good chance this is the ball that won @usacricket ODI status, and it may have cost Hong Kong theirs. #WCL2 #USAvHK pic.twitter.com/pUJ1ccTlF5
— Bertus de Jong (@BdJcricket) April 24, 2019
Pakistan-born Khan was already a poster boy for American cricket, having starred for Trinbago Knight Riders in the Caribbean Premier League.
In Namibia, he took 4-27 in the first game against Oman and followed that up with his maiden List A five-wicket haul as he pouched 5-46 against Namibia.
His ability to bowl hooping yorkers at either end of the innings has caught the eye, and the 28-year-old added 3-41 against Papua New Guinea before the key wicket of Rath against Hong Kong.
Jamaican-born former West Indies international Xavier Marshall is another potential star – the 33-year-old hitting a century in the win against Hong Kong, to follow up his unbeaten 54 against Papua New Guinea.
Add in his form in the USA’s warm-up games, including scoring 170 in a one-day game against a UAE XI and 75 against the touring Lancashire team, and his importance is clear.
But it is not just cricketing immigrants pushing the game in this USA team – America has its homegrown stars to champion too.
Steven Taylor scored 88 against Hong Kong, having already written his name into American cricket history with a half-century in their maiden T20I against UAE.
Taylor was born in South Florida and, while his ambition to play for the West Indies, having been born to Jamaican parents, is no secret, for now he is one of the USA’s brightest stars.
Aaron Jones’ Bajan upbringing has helped shape his cricketing potential, meanwhile, but the big-hitting 24-year-old – who smashed a century against hosts Namibia in Windhoek – was born in Queens, New York.
Next on the agenda for USA Cricket must be ensuring there is a pathway for more home-grown players to take over the baton for the national team.
So, what does the USA do next with regard to its cricketing ambitions? First and foremost, there is the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 campaign to look forward to.
Match-ups with Scotland, the UAE, Nepal and Oman may not carry the prestige of tours of England, Australia and India but the importance of ODI status should not be overlooked.
These games take on an added importance, a more prestigious place in the statistics charts and offer a clear gauge of where each of these nations is at.
Unlike the World Cricket League system, the matches are spread out too – no longer is one week make or break but performances over time, and consistency, will be key.
Regular fixtures, including plenty on home soil, will bring the game to the local population and with poster boys like Khan, Jones, Taylor and Marshall, USA Cricket needs to take advantage.
There is also the not insignificant matter of the final of the T20 World Cup Americas Qualifier in August, in which the USA will face Canada, the Cayman Islands and hosts Bermuda.
The top two will play in the ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier, from which as many as six nations will qualify for the final tournament in Australia.
In among those fixtures, however, the USA needs to try and exploit its ODI status to arrange prestigious fixtures against bigger nations too.
India have already arranged two T20 internationals against West Indies in Lauderhill, Florida, this summer and there is no reason the USA could not offer warm-up games for nations heading to the Caribbean in future.
The UAE have already profited in such a way – facing Australia and New Zealand ahead of both nations’ respective series with Pakistan in the Emirates.
Successful USA Cricket, successful sport
Cricket may have thrived for centuries with the USA playing, at best, only a bit-part in proceedings but there is no doubt a successful United States team would be good for the game.
Growing the global audience, tapping into the US sports market and helping to harness a new generation of sporting stars in the country would all boost cricket as a whole.
But that all starts with, first and foremost, a successful USA team and on the evidence of their performances in Namibia, there are exciting times ahead for the current national team.