My Word…… I saw this today on ESPN, and I was rolling on the floor.
The coverage was for a world championship. There was a decent crowd in to watch this as well, and the commentators were going on about strategies etc. There was also a ‘pro’ who used to come between ‘matches’ and talk about techniques and tricks…..
Ofcourse, this was just before the hot dong eating contest, also on ESPN.
They are dropped from WCL Div 3, and it will be very unlikely for them to get through to the ICC Trophy 2009…….
All I can say is….. can this farce that is USA cricket get any worse?
Well….. I have always thought that a Hollywood movie about Cricket would go a long way in order to at least introduce mainstream americans to the sport as a serious venture….. at least as far as awareness is concerned, because at the momment it looks like most of them either dont know that it is a game, or have a very weird view about it….. even if they dont know that it lasts five days !
Looks like the news that Russel Crowe is going to star in the latest movie about the Bodyline series is the best that could have been achieved under the circumstances……. I am not sure if this is going to be a Hollywood movie, or an Australian/British movie, in which case it is unlikely to find its way to American theatres…..
But Russell Crowe has a good fan following in the US, which is likely to watch any new Russell Crowe movie…… so it is definitely not something that is likely to have no effect….. there will be some positive effect regarding image and awareness…… how much is the million dollar question….. or, if you are the ICC, the 9 million dollar question :)……
Perhaps they can also interest some of Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Naomi Watts, Jude Law, Clive Owen, Kate Beckinsale, Charlize Theron, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Nicole Kidman, Heath Ledger etc. (all from test playing countries) to also star in the movie !:)….. wishful thinking indeed…….
Cricinfo recently wrote an article title Leave Americans to Baseball, in which they discussed how the expansion of cricket is a non starter. I have in one of my previous blog entries explained how some of these expat based countries end up getting the limelight, and take the focus away from countries where cricket ACTUALLY is expanding to become a popular sport.
As far as the article is concerned, I agree with parts of it. I do agree that this series, and thankfully Pakistan is not participating in it, is not going to expand the game to the US. Real expansion, for example, would be if India were to take their test team and play a match against Nepal in Khatmandu, or against Uganda in Kampala, or Afghanistan in Kabul, or even Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. What we would get in that case would be about 20-30K people, indegenous population, coming in to watch the match and back their team. Now if the local team does well, you have hit the bullseye, and the game would start getting deeply entrenched in that country.
Why would this never happen? Because what India and West Indies are doing has nothing to do with expansion. It has to do with money. A match between Nepal and India is not going to get any viewership in India, which is the real market, and still the market that the boards are trying to cater to.
It is quite true that these days, because so much cricket is played, it is hitting you right in the face that there arent enough teams playing cricket. The same 10 teams, 3 being very weak leaving effectively 7, playing incessantly against each other day in and day out starts looking like the most pointless activity ever. Personally, I dont have much interest in SA, NZ or Sri either. So to me, cricket ends up being only the bilateral series between any of Pakistan, India, Australia and England. I am sure others also have their own preferences.
Pakistan v India used to be a spectacle, and now it is not even the most lucrative series for Pakistan (PCB earned a little more from the Pakistan v Eng series than the Pakistan v India series this year). In addition to that, all of these friendship series are adding to the farce. I agree that just catering to expats doesnt do anything. Sharjah was given as an example, and its a good one. UAE has been hosting Pakistan v India matches since 1984 at least, so 22 years. And nothing has come out of it, still the same formula of recent expats playing the game. USA, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong have all been playing cricket as associates since 1967 and nothing has come out of it. So what makes anyone think that suddenly by having a WI v Ind ODI in the US is going to develop any interest in the US?
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.
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.
I was talking to someone yesterday and I realized something. Something that is fundamental to raising the standard of the associate nations compared to the test teams.
Nepal just beat NZ and SA at the U19 level. Now, if you were to take the same players from these countries 10 years into the future, when they are all 28-29, and have a rematch, what do you think is going to happen? In almost all cases, NZ and SA are going to beat Nepal by margins of 100 runs.
So what will happen between now and the next 10 years that such a dramatic difference in standard is going to be created?
The biggest reason would be that the Nepalese boys are going to go on with their lives, they will get a regular job, and cricket for them would end up being only a hobby, a recreation for the weekends. The NZ and SA boys are however going to go back and find contracts with their domestic teams, or retainers from their cricket bodies, and will be practising their cricket 8 hours a day/5 days a week and also get paid well for it. They have the environment to become professionals, while the Nepalese dont.
The problem for the Nepalese players is, that they cant even look around for professional contracts. India, the country which is a stone throw from Nepal and has a lot of money in Cricket, has virtually no interest in their domestic cricket, and has tonnes of players waiting on the sidelines for their domestic teams who are either better or as good as the Nepal players. In any case, there is a general tendency in test nations, the nations that have some salaried first class cricketers, to employ their own players in the domestic system, because no test country has a domestic system which is a product unto it’s own or has any passion associated with it. I noticed something strange, but understandable last year when Bangladesh was touring England. Though the matches were one sided, the attendance in the Eng v Ban matches was still higher than what England gets in their county setup, despite those matches being better contests. Unfortunately, when it comes to cricket, people have passion ONLY for the national country teams.
The only associate countries getting any chance in other’s domestic are the Ugandans and the Zimbabweans. This usually happens because SA have a policy to incorporate black cricketers into their leagues so that they create good role models for the black kids in SA. In any case, I dont think that the Ugandans, Zimbabweans or the Kenyans play in South African first class cricket. I think its just some second or thrid tier clubs. I have heard that some Cook Islands players play in NZ domestic, but we are not talking about 20 players, but perhaps 1 or 2.
Now, both Nepal and Uganda have the crowds, and they have the interest (about 10K registered players in Nepal and a whopping 34K in Uganda). But their cricket associations cannot afford to invite other teams and host them for a month long tour. The only associate association that is financially strong enough to host other teams is UAE.
Hence spurring the cricket industry in a country is a different problem that the ICC faces, and it is definitely not helped by the fact that there exists no passion for any country’s domestic game. Otherwise, lets say that the European countries in Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland and England had the passion for their own club cricket like they have for their football, then most of the players from the associates could have gotten employment in them, and once you had about 10 professionals from an assocaite country, you would know that their national team would be one of good standard.
As an endnote, I would like to mention this MLB backed World Baseball Classic which is a baseball world cup taking place in march. Now there have been baseball world cups before, but this is the first one that is backed by MLB, and hence this is the true world cup with the best players playing in them. There are 16 teams participating, and except for Taiwan, all other teams are composed of MLB players. The whole South Korean and Japanese teams are comprised to players who play in the MLB. Now when they will compete, they will be able to compete well in the world cup (there should not be many one sided competitions) because there is no amateur v professional battle like in cricket. That would in turn spur the baseball industries in these countries (well, baseball in Taiwan, Japan, Domican Republic, Cuba and South Korea doesn’t need any spurring) but it would in other countries like China, Italy perhaps.
It is so pathetic, that despite having a viewership of over 2 billion, cricket is stuck in a limbo in this regard, and can do nothing like the MLB.
So how do we rank them in the end? It looks like the official rankings of the Associates are the following:
In my opinion, Nepal rank the chart like their official standing. They beat a test nation, and lost to another by only 2 runs. This latter loss saw them knocked out of the super league reckoning, otherwise they would have been playing in the quarters of the tournament. Who knows, they may be able to defeat NZ today and make it 2 victories against Test sides today !!
Ireland is the number 2 ranked team in my opinion. Their 2 losses against test teams have been by 4 runs (Eng) and a shock defeat due to an astonishing innings by a Kiwi batsman, by 2 wickets in the last over (NZ).
The third team for me has been, surprise surprise, USA. Not because of their overall standing, but because I was expecting them to finish last in the tournament and also get humiliated in every game. But they managed to beat Namibia, and also managed to put up a good show against the other teams, making many of their matches what I would call ‘ODI standard’ (see my blog entry on this issue)
All of Namibia, Scotland and Uganda have had a torrid time. Uganda were unable to compete, while Scotland managed to give a bit of a scare to Sri Lanka in their first match, but went downhill from there. Namibia were pretty much unnoticeable in the tournament. I dont know if that is something good or bad for an associate team. Uganda would be disappointed because they have one of the best junior programmes for cricket in the world, and they also have a lot of interest and particiaption in the game (about 30K total players, 20K of them are juniors). Plus they have cricket in most of their schools. So for them to not be able to compete at the U19 level is difficult to understand.
Previously I have been mentioning that the WC for U19 should be a 20 team event, with 4 qualifiers from the regions, and the 16 ODI countries. Now I am thinking that ICC perhaps had it right. See, with 16 total teams it still is tournament of the highest of standards, but maybe 20 teams would dilute that.