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By Mike Thomas
I’m a cricketer. Some would say a keen and passionate cricketer. Let’s face it, to withstand twenty-six years of club and league cricket in the U.S.A. after a similar length in the English game, needs a certain amount of passion besides the ibuprofen.
One forges all manner of friends, acquaintances and relationships in the game after so long. Countless long evenings dissecting, analyzing and absorbing all manner of opinion on every facet of the priceless pastime. Strangely, only one subject appears to unite all those opinions – the parlous state of U.S. cricket organization. How so, one asks: is cricket not the fastest growing sport in the U.S? Are clubs and leagues not mushrooming across the land? Are there not promising development signs in the schools and colleges? Are not global authorities hungrily eying such a vast market?
All true, yet stranger still, everybody seems to know the answers - and they’re always all the same. A litany of intangibles: transparency, democracy, fairness, openly representative, altruism, service to the whole cricket community. All nod sagely in agreement, but implementation always seems to escape similar unity. Generations of clubs, leagues and putative national bodies have now embraced, or purported to embrace such ideals, so why the lack of success?
This is not rocket science. The Founding Fathers got it right in infinitely more complex circumstances. Why is not every member of the cricketing community, social player, league player, national star, youth player, female player, coach, umpire and plain enthusiast, up in arms clamoring at the gates, demanding resolution?
Well, apathy and those unable or unwillingly to commit effort cut the throng substantially from the get-go, while some of the activists already there have a few problems of self-interest, or with ego, power or money, or all of the above. Frustration, disgust and a sense of helplessness are powerful disincentives to commitment. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very bright and well-intentioned people who have been or currently are involved in emergent cricket organizations. There are however, many war stories out there about the difficulties in reaching democratic or collective decisions with both communities present.
So..er..ok, resolution is still easy right? Just find a few good men and women who are prepared to work their socks off for some years, have no self-interest, ego or wish for power, reward or benefit and who will readily accept ballot box banishment by their peers. This sounds onerous, but it will happen in time because the crowd at the gates is swelling and ultimately any national body gets held accountable for its results.
There is one case-book study out there, already operating successfully to the joy of all. The United States Youth Cricket Association (USYCA). Guess what? It’s altruistic, democratic, decentralized, apolitical, financially transparent, has a simple laser-like focus and is united and driven by a single commonly held belief. U.S. cricket development will pivot on the degree that generations of boys and girls in the nation’s school learn about, play and enjoy cricket. The rewards for the many hard-working volunteers? Just the laughter and smiles on the faces of the kids and PE teachers alike, the satisfaction of bringing free equipment and coaching to schools and a tangible contribution to the Game.
Who knows, maybe the children can teach something to us all in the search for appropriate leadership of U.S. Cricket. It’s the Game stupid! Playing it, enjoying it, creating the community and environment where more can enjoy it. Haggling over rewards, TV rights, national selection and lawsuits before lifting a finger is soooo adult!
So, for what it’s worth, one tiny voice of suggestion for those that would rule, or reform, or replace:
- Get the Constitution right to start with, preferably both decentralized and with strong independent oversight of the Executive.
- Win the hearts and minds of all cricket constituencies – by effort, achievement and providing service
- Listen to those constituencies. U.S. Cricket needs management of those needs, not dictatorship.
- Keep early goals simple: under-promising and over-achievement wins friends (and sponsorship!)
- Maintain a sharp focus on that which can be unanimously agreed. Dissention is a killer.
- Eliminate barriers to entry for individuals, clubs and leagues, focusing on member’s “W.I.I.F.M.” (What’s in it for me?). If today’s playing cricketers and enthusiasts are not clamoring to join, something’s wrong!
AND MOST IMPORTANT – AND CHALLENGING - OF ALL?
- Leave egos and self-interest behind. U.S. cricket cannot stand further debacle: those who cannot put the greater good of the Game ahead of self-interest - stay away!
How nice it would be to hear 100 tiny voices, then 1000 tiny voices: it is time the gates really rattled from the rank and file….
[Mike Thomas has been playing cricket for 26 years in the U.S., and is a former captain and president of his club. He is also a board member of the C.C. Morris Cricket Library and Museum at Haverford College, PA.]