By Mike Makin - A concerned parent
A month in the life of Michigan Cricket Academy provides a vivid illustration of the highs and lows faced by young cricketers and their coaches, reinforcing many of the points made in Dreamcricket’s article on the first 100 days of the new USACA administration.
On the 18th of June six MCA U-13 players flew from Detroit to San Francisco to participate in the National Junior Cricket Tournament, hosted by the California Cricket Association. They were joined by players from the Greater Chicago Cricket Association, the Midwest Cricket Conference, a Dallas club, and the California Cricket Association, to form a tournament XI playing as the Midwest and Michigan Cricket Academies.
The team’s geographic diversity was matched by its range of ages and experience. The composition of the side testifies vividly to the nature of American youth cricket: intense enthusiasm and dedication on the part of a small group of participants, with few match opportunities.
The contrast with the sports widely available to children in the US is striking. The youngest MMCA cricketer in last month’s tournament had played sixteen soccer league matches, but when Neil stepped on to the cricket ground in San Jose on the afternoon of 19th June, he was making his competitive début as a cricketer. Indeed, the same was also true of four older players.
Notwithstanding the challenges, MMCA, coached by Vasanth Krishnaswami of MCA and Shirish Joshi of GCCA, gave a good account of themselves, with major contributions from every player.
MMCA’s tournament record was modest -- they lost their first match, against Northern California Cricket Association by seven wickets, lost to the eventual champions, California Cricket Association Purple, by 53 runs, and then beat CCA Green by eleven runs – but they played better in each successive match, and had many moments to savor.
GCCA’s Parth Joshi was man-of-the-match in MMCA’s victory, scoring a fine twenty-two, which included some beautiful shots on the off side, taking two wickets in an over to help seal the win, and executing two excellent run outs; in the same match MCA’s Rohit Mogalayapalli, coming in later than usual, scored a handsome 33, while Midwest’s P. Pryank, moved up the order, scored an aggressive 31; off-spinner Vivek Joglekar (GCCA) took 3-23; the ground cricket from debutant Ryan Quinlan (MCA) was outstanding, as was his running between the wickets in a key partnership, and Neil Makin secured victory with a fine running catch at midwicket.
Over the entire tournament Ani Mayasandra (MCA,) captained with maturity, while, in the first two matches, Gordon Makin (MCA) shared with Rohit Mogalayapalli in two fine opening stands, which could, with a bit more luck, have provided the basis for victories; Gordon Makin was also top wicket-taker for MMCA with tournament figures of 5-61 for his leg spin, while he and Rohit Mogalayapalli shared wicket keeping duties in the first two matches to good effect. Jai Sura’s competitive début was crowned with a fine 15 in the second match, and Jaffer Shahabuddin went home to Dallas cherishing a nice caught-and-bowled among other accomplishments. California’s Pratik Bhatt provided his temporary team mates with excellent support in the field throughout the tournament.
In other words, the entire XI, assisted by the rotational policies of coaches Krishnaswami and Joshi, made great developmental strides, and fully justified the efforts it took to put a tournament side together.
MCA’s six, fired up by their California experiences, returned to Michigan with a predictable question on their lips: “When will our next match be?” The answer, alas, is uncertain.
MCA is the only fully developed youth program in the state, so matches are hard to come by and require considerable commitment from every family. For the younger players a cross-border series in Toronto in late August, when the Michigan teams will be coached by the Academy’s other head coach, Shyam Mayasandra, might be the next chance to hone match skills; in the mean time MCA’s older players will have some limited opportunities to play on senior sides in the Michigan Cricket Association’s leagues; and, of course, everyone will play in MCA’s own annual Labor Day tournament. But that’s not a whole lot of matches to look forward to.
All the same, the Academy, in its four years of existence, has gone from strength to strength, largely through the tireless efforts of its two head coaches, Krishnaswami and Mayasandra, who work entirely without compensation (another striking contrast, of course, to soccer, where coaches from across the world can make handsome livings out of the youth game).
MCA has been assisted by generous local sponsors, but it has had no national support -- a reminder that the youth game remains a poor relation of the adult version and a dramatic contrast with other participatory team sports in the USA. True, USACA’s home page has what appears to be a link entitled “Cricket Development: Junior Program”, but it opens nothing, while the link for “Academies” on another page opens an error page.
Last week the national U-15 tournament took place in Chicago – as Dreamcricket noted, a sign of improvements on the national scene. But reports indicated that organization left something to be desired and the view from Michigan is especially bleak: no tryouts were held in the state, even though the Great Lakes Cricket Conference has been prominent in USACA recently (Michigan’s other league, the Michigan Cricket Association, has apparently paid its USACA dues and is awaiting reinstatement).
A gesture was, nonetheless, made by the Central East Region to MCA, which is not currently a USACA member: a few days before the U-15 tournament was due to begin, MCA coaches were informed that a C.E.R. selector would visit MCA practice. Emails and phone calls went out to all Academy members, and a large number of players gathered at the Lyon Oaks Park ground (Wixom). Practice began, the nets were very active; the selector, on his way to the ground, called a coach for directions and then … failed to appear. Players, coaches, parents went home astonished and disappointed. The contrast with other youth sports was, yet again, stunning. Many MCA players have extensive experience of the challenging and usually well-run, open tryouts for soccer, basketball, baseball, and hockey – whether for clubs or for elite, highly selective programs. Cricket, it seems, had let them down again.
In the next few days a flurry of emails and phone calls between Michigan and Chicago clarified little – “politics” was the word mentioned most often to explain what had happened. When the pool of available youth cricketers is so small it seems particularly odd that selectors neglected MCA, while the enthusiastic players who expected to display their skills to a regional selector, even if, for many, it would simply have been a “learning experience”, were given another stimulus to choose a different sport. To cap it all, Michigan’s neglected players will have noted that the selectors, one of whom apparently decided en route not to turn up at MCA practice, put together a zonal team that seems to have lost every match at the tournament
If cricket is to thrive long-term in the United States, there surely have to be more highs and fewer lows for youth players; national organization must be better and more open; and the big fish in the small pond of US cricket might consider setting aside personal issues for the benefit of the game.
Click on the links below for some photos:
MMCA team, with coach Vasanth Krishnaswami and team family members Neill Quinlan, Derek Fish, and Michael Makin
Lunch on the first day
MMCA openers Gordon Makin and Rohit Mogalayapalli take the field at the start of the first match
Gordon Makin batting against NCCA
P. Pryank looks to get on top of the bowling
Rohit Mogalayapalli goes after the CCA Green bowling
Parth Joshi, man-of-the-match against CCA Green, challenges the batsmen
Parth Joshi attacks the bowling
Parth Joshi, excellent stroke maker
MMCA Captain Ani Mayasandra fires it in
Debutant Ryan Quinlan at the crease
Neil Makin bowling against CCA Green
Gordon Makin, top wicket-taker for MMCA
Gordon Makin’s leg spin
MMCA’s youngest player, Neil Makin, is chaired off the field by captain Ani Mayasandra, after ending the match against CCA Green with a fine running catch at midwicket
Debutant Jai Sura at the crease