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By Venu Palaparthi
At a recent party, a guest excitedly told me, "I was driving on Route 27 and I saw some people playing cricket." I asked him whether he stopped to watch the game. "Nah! I had to get home to watch the CSK match."
Pic (right): Cricket has received some coverage in the US media. But the coverage is rarely about domestic cricket.
Despite loud proclamations that USA is home to the second largest cricket audience on the internet, the fact remains that a vast majority of these fans are disconnected from grassroots cricket in the USA. In fact, most of these netizens are actually consumers of international cricket news via Cricinfo or Cricketnext.
Only the most die-hard fans, perhaps fewer than a thousand, can actually name a player on the United States men's national cricket team. It doesn't help at all that the stories they read on Cricinfo about American cricket are about poor governance and listlessness. That only vindicates the fans' disconnect with the local cricket scene.
Type "USA cricket" in Google News Search and all that the famed search engine will retrieve is DreamCricket.com's coverage of American cricket and the occasional CricInfo piece. To the American cricketer's annoyance, articles about wireless telephone service provider Cricket sometimes creep into the search results.
It wasn't always like this. National newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post were known to have had regular cricket coverage in the mid to late 19th century. Now, cricket only makes an occasional cameo on editorial desks, reserved for major events and sensational news.
Sachin's 100th international century deservedly got some attention. Wright Thompson wrote a column for ESPN in the run-up to Sachin's milestone. Time Magazine featured Sachin in their print publication, calling him the World's Best Cricketer and even landed an interview with the unusually reticent cricketing legend which was published online. Manu Joseph wrote a piece for The New York Times calling Sachin a 'Balm of the Nation.' Allen Stanford and Raj Rajarathnam, especially their much publicized love for cricket, was headline fodder for two years until their conviction.
When an article on the sport of cricket appeared in The Washington Post last week, it quickly went viral among cricket fans in the United States. It was heartening to see grassroots cricket get some coverage.
Pic (right): Screen grab of the Post article that appeared on May 21, 2012
Articles like the one that appeared in the Post also are sporadically seen in other city-based newspapers like The Hartford Courant, The Newark Star-Ledger or The Philadelphia Inquirer, sometimes on the invitation of the local leagues. The reporters writing these one-off articles often portray cricket with curiosity and puzzlement. These are men and women who are in the unenviable position of writing about cricket after witnessing their first game ever.
The articles follow the same format - a brief description of what the writer is witnessing, a walk through the game's roots in England, the customary invocation of John Adams, some social commentary regarding the game's resurgence, a random reference to tea, an equally incongruous mention of matches stretching to five days, some clairvoyant predictions regarding the made-for-US T20 format, sound bytes from local administrators, a few lines on the game's popularity in the Indian subcontinent, gratuitous comparisons with baseball and a text flyout box containing a cricket primer. Not to forget, the mandatory and quaintly spelled words - "cricketeer" and "batman", and the slightly misplaced "valium" and "pitcher."
Just like the Post article, these occasional articles are circulated and commented on with enthusiasm by cricket fans in blogs and via social media. Among the commenters are Americans who have traveled to cricket playing countries, passive cricket fans who have just discovered the existence of a league in their own city, and a handful of random commenters from India or Pakistan claiming extraordinary talent and wondering how they could come and play club cricket in the US.
Frequently, the articles also get basic facts wrong, especially regarding the number of cricketers or cricket grounds. They cannot be faulted too much for that - data on cricket in the USA is spotty at best.
A shy and insular community
A good amount of blame for the sport's low profile within the USA should go to the American cricket community, which is affected by a general disregard for media engagement. From the local cricket club to the national cricket body, from the local club president to the president of the national association, few individuals or organizations in the US can be described as being media savvy.
Pic (right): The most common criticism of USA cricket is that the clubs and leagues aren't rowing in the same direction.
It all begins with the tone set at the top. USACA's website is unwelcoming and its media efforts are uninspiring, bordering on unbelievable. For pointers, look at this undated interview that until a couple of weeks ago inhabited the main page of the national body's website. The interview appears to be from 2010, because there is a reference to the departure of Don Lockerbie 'earlier this year.' In the interview, USACA President Gladstone Dainty says that the USACA board would start searching for a CEO early in the New Year, implying 2011. About the attributes of the national CEO, Dainty says: “We will be looking for someone to help us to get more Americans to play and have the ability to communicate to all people.” Over a year later, the board just recently announced on May 27 that it would look for a full-time CEO. An interim CEO was named in April. The only communications with 'all people' aimed at getting 'more Americans to play' are news articles that appeared in foreign media soon after the appointment was confirmed.
Local cricket leagues, which are the hubs of cricket activity, have been highly ineffective in establishing connections with each other. They exist as islands of cricket on the internet and rarely celebrate cricketing achievements and feats, even the more astonishing ones, outside of their own leagues. Leagues have generally paid very little attention to the long term direction of cricket in the US and many cricketers have no interest in what goes on at the national level.
In fact, some five years after DreamCricket.com began continuous coverage of domestic cricket, most American cricket clubs and leagues do not carry links to the website, preferring to link to Cricinfo and other international feeds.
This insularity has hurt American cricket a lot and resulted in poor coverage by other media outlets.
Publicity, media engagement and media attention are all interconnected. Community support and domestic cricket coverage in the media can help to catalyze the passive undercurrent of interest in the sport into a trip to the local cricket ground.
Pic (Right): USYCA has been very effective with using internet and social media.
USYCA, Philadelphia Cricket Festival, Radiant Info T20, American College Cricket and Edison Cricket Club are examples of organizations that have given publicity and media relations some attention. As a result, these organizations have been rewarded with a fair amount of coverage in regional, community-centric and national media.
Philadelphia Cricket Festival and the DreamCricket organized Radiant Info T20 are examples of why positive news cycles are important for generating greater interest in domestic cricket. Not surprisingly, the finals of these events have drawn sizable crowds, and for many in the audience, it's their first live cricket match in the United States. In turn, the interest and the resulting eyeballs help drive more sponsors.
If there is one organization that clubs and leagues must emulate, it is USYCA. The organization releases a steady flow of positive news via the internet and is also very active on social media. Little wonder then that it is the fastest growing cricket organization in the United States and the world has taken notice.