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A few days before the start of the ICC World Cricket League Division Five Tournament in Kathmandu, Nepal, Peter Della Penna of DreamCricket.com had the opportunity to sit down with USA Cricket Association CEO Don Lockerbie to ask him about recent developments that have been making headlines for USACA.
Pic (Right): USA Cricket CEO observes a team meeting before USA vs Nepal (which USA won) [Courtesy: Daniela Zaharia/USACA]
In Part 1 of the interview that was published on Monday, we found out about the plans for New Zealand and Sri Lanka to come to the US in May to play a series of Twenty20 matches in Florida.
In Part 2 of the interview, Don Lockerbie talks about plans for professionalization of cricket in USA and a variety of new initiatives that are currently in the works.
Peter Della Penna: (Moving on to professionalization of cricket). How many contracts do you foresee initially being handed out? Is it going to be 15 for the full national team squad or is it just 5 or 10 or incrementally over the course of the next year or so? How many initially are there going to be?
Don Lockerbie: I can’t say that now. I haven’t finalized that plan. A lot of it has to do with how fast we also move towards development of a professional T20 domestic league in the United States, which is also very much on the table. We are currently very far along with a group that we’ve been talking to since the summer of 2009 who are putting together a very impressive proposal for us regarding the development of a league by 2012.
Now, we’d be looking for an American summer of international cricket at the domestic T20 league which would professionalize many of our players and would contract many of our players. What we have to look at is following kind of the professional soccer model which is you professionalize your players because they’re part of franchise teams and then you incentivize them for the national teams with a secondary contract when they’re playing at the international level and that’s kind of the model that we’re following.
Obviously we want to professionalize as many players as possible and the league will do that. If you figure that in a few years, we might have six to eight professional teams in the United States with say seven or eight Americans on each team, we could soon have whatever that math is, 50-60 players with professional contracts and that also would mean that there would be administrators and coaches with professional contracts and then our selection process would be completely different as to how we then devise and create national teams.
We really see that part of our strategy to professionalize cricket is also to create this domestic league and that’s very high on our radar and we’ve not been talking about it a lot but we can announce that in 2010, we’re making very serious progress and look forward to some announcements about that later in the year.”
Peter Della Penna: How many and which cities are being targeted to host these teams and where would the matches be played? Obviously there’s only the one major stadium in Florida at the moment. Where would these matches be played?
Don Lockerbie: These stadiums are going to have to come online in the next few years in the cities that want and so again I’m not at liberty to share the business model right now. I just wanted to be able to share the fact that we’ve made more progress than most people think and I’m talking about a domestic league right now. I’m not talking about the IPL coming to the United States. That’s another matter. To be clear, this is something we’ve been working on since really June of last year.
You’ll recall there was an international tender that took place. Well, it’s been making progress. So to say how many teams are gonna be or how many cities would be premature because the business model’s still being worked on. But what I can say is at the right time, there’ll be an opportunity for franchises. There’ll be an opportunity for cities to bid. Part of that will have to be the development of stadiums and we’ll get more information out about that probably by the summer.
Peter Della Penna: Where are you expecting the fans to come from to support this kind of thing? Obviously over the past year that I’ve seen anyway, nobody’s really shown up to the USACA tournaments and nobody really shows up to club cricket in the US. Where are you anticipating or how are you going to try and get fans to come out to start supporting domestic cricket?
Don Lockerbie: Domestic cricket doesn’t mean it doesn’t have international players. Domestic cricket means that it is American city based. It’ll be owned and operated by a USACA joint venture and it will be ICC approved and it will be the kind of league that deals in a very significant and friendly manner with the Full Member boards from around the world.
We will absolutely be a team where fans will see some of their favorite players and maybe some other players that are up and coming from various boards and clubs around the world. Again, the business model isn’t finalized, but I know that everybody we’re talking to is pretty excited about it and the important piece of it right now is that we’re making the necessary progress. It’s not stagnant, it’s not static.
Pic (Left): Don Lockerbie addresses a gathering of students at Lincoln School in Nepal [Courtesy: Daniela Zaharia/USACA]
Peter Della Penna: You talked about players, new selection process, a whole lot of new things coming in with hopefully the new professional structure, etc. Why should players who are currently in the domestic system who have been overlooked continuously in the past, why should they feel that a new system, why should they feel convinced that things are going to change when in the past they’ve been frustrated at having not been selected?
Don Lockerbie: Well, unfortunately US has played such little international cricket over the last five years that when there’s only 14 men selected to a team, it’s difficult to either break in or it’s just not that much cricket. So for even the men who’ve been on the 14 and who’ve been here for years like Steve Massiah, Lennox Cush, Orlando Baker, all these guys who’ve been playing for years, that they’re still around is a testament to their dedication and commitment to cricket so it’s exciting to see these guys.
In the same vein, we now have professional management. We’re not just a board anymore with volunteers who give up their time and dedication and when there’s an opportunity to play cricket, they put a team together. Now, we’ve got a 24/7, 365-day management that is looking to try and find a way for our teams to play more cricket.
If some of the current players can be patient and some of the younger players can stay dedicated, there’s no reason why again, with a professional league coming, you couldn’t be a professional cricketer. 50-60 players can be professional cricketers. That’s something you’re going to be able to see in the next two to five years.
The US national team is going to play more frequently, I mean even this year in 2010. Let’s look at 2009. There was not one single international match for the US national team in 2009. In fact, when we played in Dubai in February, it would have been November ‘08 since the last match so maybe we were a little rusty. We hadn’t played in, what would that be, 15 months. So here we are. But now, we (played) a month of cricket in February in Dubai and Nepal.
In March, we’re gonna play the MCC in Fort Lauderdale. In April, we’ll play warm-up matches for the T20 World Cup. In May, we’re gonna be part of the Sri Lanka-New Zealand series. Then we have the Americas Championships in May-June and WCL Division Four in Italy in August. I mean that’s an amazing amount of cricket in comparison to what this team has done.
Some of the guys are gonna be able to play all of it, some are not. We’ll be able to move players in and that doesn’t even count the other ideas we have right now – series with Canada, series with other countries that all want to come and play in the United States. So honestly, if you’re a cricketer, the next few years could be the beginning of the dream to play as much professional cricket as people ever hoped. For the guys that we’re watching today and are currently playing, I hope that they still have a lot of good years left in them to play. Now, I’m not sleeping at night until what I’ve promised, which is professionalization of cricket in the United States, is alive and well.
Pic (Right): Don Lockerbie believes that the fans will come if we do it right. A picture of the spectators that came to watch USA vs Nepal. [Courtesy: Daniela Zaharia/USACA]
Peter Della Penna: What else is new or what are some of the other things on tap for the United States in the next nine months, ten months through the end of 2010?
Don Lockerbie: Well, we’ve made the announcement that we’ve met with Lalit Modi, Sundar Raman, and we’ve definitely got a working group that will be starting in May with the IPL. Lalit has agreed to meet with us again in May, right around the T20, and we will be setting up a working group that will study how the IPL does come to the United States, when does it come, how does it come. Right now, the concepts are on the table, everything from just individual teams or several of them coming and touring the United States and playing matches to the potential of maybe a shorter version, smaller version of the IPL in the American summer. Those are all concepts that are no secret because other people are talking about them.
So we’ll start talking seriously. The IPL has made the announcement that they’d like to be in the United States in 2011. So that sounds like a pretty serious commitment. The good part about it is that when people are reading headlines about what the IPL is saying about America, Americans should understand that we’re very much part of the picture. We know what’s going on, we’ve been quiet about it until now, but it’s exciting to state that things are moving in the right direction.
Peter Della Penna: You talked with David Morgan and Haroon Lorgat in Dubai?
Don Lockerbie: Absolutely. In fact, I was summoned to a meeting by them which was a great opportunity for me to update them while I was in Dubai as to all the plans that we’re working on and kind of give them more first-hand information on the details from the press releases they were reading.
I think they’re very very pleased with the direction we’re headed. They were very very complimentary of our relationship with New Zealand Cricket and we seem to be handling things correctly. I think as an Associate, we might be an anomaly. We’re trying to be an Associate team that’s going to act and behave like a Full Member until someday that we have the kind of teams that can beat Full Members and maybe become a Full Member. It would certainly be our goal following what Ireland is trying to do.
Peter Della Penna: Did you talk to them at all about the possibility of trying to bring an ICC event to the US?
Don Lockerbie: Well, there’s one ICC event that is available, open and unscheduled and unlocated and that’s the Champions Trophy of 2013. It’s our understanding that the ICC will inform all members that there will be a tender process probably in the next month and I learned that while I was in Dubai.
I will put this before the board of USACA, but it would be my own personal goal to bid for the 2013 Champions Trophy. We understand that we would need essentially two stadiums and several training grounds that would all be within an hour or two of one another, maybe an hour or two or three of one another. I already know that there would be tremendous interest in Florida. I know that there would be tremendous interest in New York and I would be happy to know if there were other cities in the United States that would be interested.
Click here for Part 1 of the interview.