Cricket no longer America's cup of tea
By Greg Shaw This week, more than two billion people will turn their attention to the World Cup of cricket. But not us. Or should I say, not U.S.?
By Greg Shaw
This week, more than two billion people will turn their attention to the World Cup of cricket. But not us. Or should I say, not U.S.?
In his beautifully researched history of cricket in America, Flannels at the Sward, Jayesh Patel quotes former Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies as saying, "The world would have been a much happier abode had America and Russia played cricket."
What is arguably the second most popular sport after soccer opened its quadrennial World Cup last week in Australia and New Zealand, with the biggest TV networks - ESPN, BBC, Star, Eurosport, and others - raking in giant amounts of cash from international sponsors. South Africa and Australia are favorites among the 14 nations, which include, among others, England, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India.
Here in America, we'll stick with the NBA midseason and perhaps news about pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. But cricket-mad nations span the globe, excepting the United States and South America.
It wasn't always so. America enjoyed such a promising cricketing start.
George Washington played "at wicket" with his troops in Valley Forge. We actually invented international matches when we played our neighbors to the north, Canada, in 1844. And, little-known fact, the Philadelphian Bart King has long been considered by the game's historians to be one of the greatest cricket players of all time. No, he never lived abroad, and he played cricket just down the road from baseball's storied Philadelphia Athletics.
Before today's King James in Cleveland and King Felix in Seattle, there was Philadelphia's Bart King - the "King of Swing," dubbed as such because of his swerving, angling bowled ball, which buckled Britain's best batsmen.
At the turn of the last century, when Teddy Roosevelt was president, Bart King's Gentlemen of Philadelphia cricket club regularly toured England and earned the respect of the game's best players, not to mention the country that created cricket. (Though one Englishman was surprised when the American insisted on being called Bart rather than Mr. King. After all, we're both gentlemen, King observed. "Oh no, sir, I am a professional," came the response.)
King delighted and confounded England during his team's tour in 1903, the same year baseball's World Series was born.
In the ensuing years, cricket faded and baseball rose as our national pastime. By 1909, England founded the Imperial Cricket Conference - the predecessor of today's organizers of the cricket World Cup. The United States was excluded until 1965, when it finally became an associate member. It has never qualified for the World Cup.
America is not a powerhouse in the first or the second most popular games on Earth, though soccer is on the rise here. Still, Major League Baseball is the most popular league in the world as measured by attendance, and the NFL attracts the largest single-game averages.
The excuses are many: Cricket matches are too long. (True, test matches can run for five days, though an MLB series runs for three to seven days.) Cricket is too complicated. (A five-minute look at a cricket Wikipedia page will tell the beginner enough to enjoy the game.) Cricket is not American. (Hmm.)
Michael Johnson rises to the challenge of this criticism with his slim book The 5 Reasons Why Cricket is More American than Baseball. He frames his argument around the six freedoms cricket players enjoy over baseball players. Freedom number four ("Who's on First and Where is Silly Mid-off?), for example, points out that cricket positions are constantly shifted to anticipate and adapt to bowling and batting styles.
We chuckle at our cricket-playing cousins with some peril.
"All people, Americans, whoever, are at their most civilized when they're playing cricket," writes Joseph O'Neill in his post-9/11 novel Netherlands. "What's the first thing that happens when Pakistan and India make peace? They play a cricket match. Cricket is instructive. ... It has a moral angle. ... I say, we want to have something in common with Hindus and Muslims? With the New York Cricket Club, we could start a whole new chapter in U.S. history. Why not?"