Home > USA > Opinion: Of USA Cricket….

Opinion: Of USA Cricket….

Every sports body, and ICC in particular, seem to be obsessed with developing their sport in the US. In many ways, they should be as well because of the massive population (over 300 million now) and the massive GDP of the country (about 11 trillion on sales).

But the truth about US cricket is that the game is followed by, at the most optimistic, than 1% of the population, and that too are primarily (over 98%) recent immigrants from South Asia. It may look like a Zimbabwe type situation, where too the whites played the game who were less than 1%. But in reality it is not. The Zimbabwean whites who play cricket today, or at least played till 2003, were not recent immigrants from Britain. They were instead people whose grandparents even were born in Zimbabwe. Hence the roots of the game were strong enough to sustain it over 3-4 generations. Even today, with all the crisis, a predominantly white Zimbabwean team was quite strong at the U19 World Cup, getting a ranking higher than SA and NZ, and beating Eng during the tournament.

In Zimbabwe, cricket was part of white culture. The whites played the game, and passed it onto future generations, who played the game with as much passion. More cricitically, the whites were and still are the elites, hence the next generation of white kids played the same game that sort of defined the elite status of their forefathers. In the US, things are not like that. If you take a look at the who is playing and who is not, you will notice that second generation South Asians are not really into Cricket. They are more into american sports like Football, Baseball and Basketball. Cricket for them is just something that their forefathers used to do as a cultural tradition. In fact, even some of the first generation South Asian immigrants themselves totally loose interest in the game after coming to the US and staying here for 10 years, so its not like they are going to pass anything on to their kids.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the South Asian kids picking up American sports. They go to school in the US, have friends who are into american sports, and american sports are on tv all the time and easier to identify with. In South Asia, Cricket totally wrecks the other sports like Hockey and Football becuase it is the most glamourously packaged sport, and the same is the case for american sports in the US.

So what essentially happens and has been happenning is that the South Asian kids, within a generation, get 'mainstreamed' into american sports.

This has a lot to do with human psychology as well. As I mentioned before that cricket in the US is not a predominantly South Asian/WI sport, but a TOTALLY South Asian/WI sport (over 98%). South Asian kids perhaps want to limit their association with the sport becuase they also want to get mainstreamed, which is very natural, and which is also good in the long run for them.

Has the ICC never wondered why the 'huge cricket market' in US is willing to pay $150 for India-Pakistan matches on pay tv which start at midnight, while not willing to spend even $10 for the local MLC or USACA games? Have they never wondered why this market was mostly unaware that US was playing in the Champions Trophy of 2004, or that they still would be unable to recall the names of the players in the US team?? What we have in the US is a cricket 'market' for South Asia, and perhaps the WI, but definitely not a country that is 'taking on the game'. Its the same as Indians and Pakistanis actually being in South Asia, except for the fact that they are now paying dollars. Its a good market, but it is doing nothing for the long term sustainability of the sport here. As I mentioned above, it is only a matter of time that the passion is lost, with the generations being unable to identify with the South Asian teams. For some ununderstandable reason, the ICC is ok with this, and still consider this as rapid 'development' of Cricket in the US.

There is no development of cricket going on in the US. Well, there may be a couple of cricketers who are not expats, or second gen immigrants from South Asia or WI, but if you look as new entrants to the game, US has to be worse than Cook Islands (pop. 20K people).

I will talk about mainstreaming, and this argument has been done to death in US Cricketing cirlces. But I would like to talk about mainstreaming for a different reason; to keep even the second gen immigrants into the game. Cricket in the US has to be made into a sport, not a cultural tradition. The participation numbers are going to grow dramatically if there are all sorts of kids, Hispanic, African American, Asians and whites playing the game in the US. Participation numbers are going to grow even in the South Asian kids if that is the case because they would start looking at the sport as a sport. Schools Atheletics programs are the best place to introduce a sport, but that is not done at all in the US (its very expensive, agreed, but countries like Italy, and Japan have done it, and its expensive there too).

ICC also needs to realize a little bit that some countries where the game is basically an expat game, like USA, Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong have not been able to improve their standing in world cricket despite being members of the ICC since 1966, and despite being associate members for over 30 years!!! This is because the game is not mainstreamed, its not rooted. Unless the cricket playing community is part of the elite or something, like Zimbabwe, they are going to get mainstreamed themselves and will stop holding on to non religious (though that too in many cases) traditions.

Then there is also the thing about image. The south asians ONLY playing the game only reinforces the game's image as a 'colonial sport', and worse still, an 'alien sport'. At the same time, the fact that South Asians, while playing, almost entirely use the Hindi or Urdu language doesn't help. No report about cricket in US media (and that happens once in a blue moon, usually sarcastically) is without the reference to the notion that the English taught the game to their 'colonial subjects' to teach them manners and be 'gentlemen'.

It is my also opinion, and this one may be totally off target, that the recent immigrants (those who came to the US less than 10 years ago), are in no position to actually spread the game here. They can develop the players, improve their playing standards etc. But I think they are unable to do the most basic of things i.e. to sell the game to the football, baseball, basketball loving white, african american or hispanic average american. Since the immigrants themselves have never been through the lifestyle that the average american has gone through while growing up, it is next to impossible for them to tell them why they should watch the game, or play the game, or get their kids to play the game. Second generation South Asian or West Indian immigrants would be significantly better at this though, but that is a tough call given some of the arguments I have mentioned above.

Finally, I would like to mention the tricky business of ethnicity. People claim that it does not matter. I would like the situation to be that it does not matter, and I think that the US today is perhaps the best in the world in looking beyond ethnicity. But the fact remains that there is always talk in the US media of good 'Hispanic' role models, or good 'African American' role models. Why is that? Why dont the african american kids just make the good white celebrities their role models? Or why dont the hispanic kids make the good african american celebrities their role models? Or why dont the whites make good hispanic celebrities their role models? The reality is that ethnicity of the player is a reasonably important variable in 'winning new converts' to the game, and also to give them the feeling, espeically the kids, that the game is not an alien one. An existing passion is something else, for example, most baseball celebrities these days are from Dominican republic, Puerto rico or even Cuba. But America is already passionate about that sport, and hence they dont really care about the ethnicity of the star players as long as they play well. Cricket in this sense, is a different ball game, and perhaps needs to have some of the mainstream ethnicities partiticpating in the game for the sake of creating good role models for the mainstream youngsters to follow.

That is…. if at first…. there are any mainstream youngsters to influence.

Expats only playing cricket is not a bad thing, it is in fact a good thing, though, it is the start of the process rather than the end as it is in the case of US. The expats, already crazy about the game, create a market for the improvement of cricket facilities i.e. grounds, pitches, academies, cricket equipment, albiet for themselves. They also create the clubs, and perhaps pay fees to be affiliated with some regional league, and that will in turn pay money to be affiliated with the national cricket association in case there is some domestic competition and they want to field their team in it. This means extra revenue for the national board. Once this base is set, it is much easier for the national body to start mainstreaming the game, because all they have to do is to get the new kids to be interested. The new kids dont in addition have to worry about infrastrucutre; the process is much smoother.

But…..

One has to understand that from the US perspective, none of this has happenned, at least to the extent that it should have. People have been emigrating from Cricketing countries in thousands since the 1950s, but nothing has happenned. If you look at the 1979 US cricket team, it consisted of WI and South Asian expats, and the standard was low. Today, nearly 30 years later, the team consists of WI and South Asian expats, and the standard is low (losing to Uganda and Oman doesnt display great talent). It is because of all this, that I feel that my arguments above are correct, and the traditional notion of expats getting the foothold for Cricket is not applying to the US at the momment.

It is applying to Japan though, and the ICC should take note of that.

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Categories: USA
  1. Cuen Lucas
    March 9, 2006 at 2:24 am

    The idea of mainstreaming has been bouncing around U.S. cricket for a while, and acceptance for the idea has grown in the past 18 months or so. But for whatever reason there are still those who believe that cricket is the exclusive reserve of their circles and view mainstreaming as a threat to their power and authority, these indviduals have in the past slandered and discouraged any efforts to bring the sport to the American populace as a whole.
    For it’s own sake the U.S. cricketing community must accept the fact that mainstreaming is not just beneficial, but vital, and work towards spreading the game to all corners of the U.S.A. Noly then will cricket truly thrive there. But if mainstreaming is neglected, then crickets future in the U.S. is dim at best.

  2. vj
    January 23, 2008 at 10:47 am

    It has to played at a extreemly fast pace. that means more offenseive strokes which will resule in more defensive moves. Have some tailgating bbq parties before the game Have some colcorful brocheures to hand out to guests and fans. It is not very different from baseball if you think aobut it. Money is also a very big barrier. Some one has to sponsor . A mojor brand name company. since India has been a major palyer in the intl market as to goods and services may be someone can come forward and do something aobut it.

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