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By Venu Palaparthi
In 2010, The Pearls Cup T20 series between New Zealand vs Sri Lanka in Florida was derided as a “flop show” and the pitch received a C-grade by many observers. At DreamCricket.com, we were not so cynical.
We drank the Kool-Aid.
DreamCricket.com's reporting in 2010 described "Destination USA" as a new product that needed a lot of shaping and evolving. “Where many previous cricket boards, individual entrepreneurs and business conglomerates have had little success, the current bunch of people behind The Pearls Cup have been able to give that product an initial shape and feel,” DreamCricket.com reporter Gokul Chakravarthy wrote.
In product-speak, it was a proof of concept.
When Andy Bull wrote in The Spin that the “average American sports fan has no need for, or interest in, cricket, whether it is Twenty20 or Test," we countered that “one series cannot convert Americans into screaming cricket fans!”
Following the latest set of T20 matches between West Indies and New Zealand in Florida, the detractors are once again bashing USACA and CHA. Tom Melville, the highly regarded cricket historian, wrote in a column last week: “Show me the Americans!” He argued that the strategy - “If we just keep staging these matches sooner or later the Americans will come around to the game” - just isn’t working.
USACA would like for us to see the Lauderhill matches through the same self-congratulatory prism that they are viewing it through. Gladstone Dainty, USACA President and CHA Chairman, said: "As we continue to have more international matches and look to start a T20 league in the USA next year, we anticipate seeing more involvement from Americans in the sport."
ICC too appears to have arrived at a similar conclusion. “[By] successfully staging these fixtures in Florida, the WICB and NZC as Full Members of the ICC have made a key contribution to the ongoing process of building domestic awareness in our Great Sport," Tim Anderson, ICC's Global Development Manager said.
To be fair, USACA, ICC, WICB, NZC and CHA deserve praise for a well organized tournament in Florida. The turnstiles were busy, the pitch behaved better and the West Indies posse were sufficiently entertained by Chris Gayle and his mates. But it would be tenuous to draw any conclusions about an increased interest and "more involvement from Americans" in the near-term. It will take more than neutral venue cricket to achieve that.
Following the Pearls Cup in 2010, we were led to believe that the two development prongs - "Project 2015" and "American Cricket" - would also become a reality, and that those initiatives would successfully propagate cricket across USA. We drank the Kool-Aid in 2010. We are not so gullible now.
One long slumber-fest.
On the sidelines of The Pearls Cup in 2010, Michael Gale, now the First VP of USACA but then just a spectator, told DreamCricket.com: “US cricket has finally woken from a slumber, stretched its limbs and joined the real world of international cricket. There are individuals and entrepreneurs in the US that will start to wake up and start investing. We should see events like this as the norm going forward and not exception. I hope we can all support in a positive way to our [collective] future.”
If Michael Gale didn't find himself on USACA's board now, he would probably agree that last two years have just been another long slumber-fest for USACA.
Yes, the cricketing fabric has expanded – cricket's foot soldiers have worked hard at promoting cricket in schools, universities and cities across USA - one new ground, one new coaching clinic, one new tournament, one new umpiring seminar, one new school, one free cricket kit, one summer camp at a time.
Very little of that credit belongs to USACA.
Other than the two Destination USA events, occasional hope-inducing announcements about CHA, and one or two one-off initiatives which have received praise, I cannot think of a single long-term initiative that can be attributed to USACA. The organization has generally bumbled forth, while also contriving to be inaccessible and incommunicative.
If USACA woke up intermittently, it was not to help the volunteers but to throw obstacles at them - evidence is abundant, just look at the news from last year e.g. the national T20.
On the governance front, things were even worse, with USACA waking up way past the rooster's call on the basic requirement of an election. The regional and national elections, were not only delayed, they were marred by controversy on an unprecedented scale. Leagues and entire regions were thrown in limbo, appeals were dismissed by a farcical committee, formal complaints by the so-called non-compliant leagues remain unheard. Not surprisingly, USACA’s national league membership map is thought to have more holes than Swiss cheese.
Déjà vu all over again.
USACA's single-minded focus from former CEO Don Lockerbie's time to the present has been to advance the commercial deal with CHA. The prevailing wisdom was that the resulting financial well-being and grants to leagues would bring about greater alignment and harmony.
Promises were made in town hall meetings of funds that were to be distributed in 2012 - but those funds have generally remained a mirage, and will likely remain so for leagues that are out of favor (or 'non-compliant' if you prefer). Recently, a ‘league administration grant’ was bestowed on just a handful of 'compliant' leagues.
Naturally, for the cricket community across USA, it is a case of deja vu all over again. A new interim CEO just announced plans to "present to the board a clear road-map for the development of cricket at all levels with short-term and long-term goals." USACA's website advertises an imaginary "U-15 national tournament" starting tomorrow (July 13) at a location to be determined (screenshot at right). Elsewhere, the national youth chairman, Michael Gale, has written to the league presidents asking for their 'personal engagement' for the development of youth cricket.
The country should own cricket.
The intelligent and erudite Kumar Sangakkara said it best following the series in Florida in 2010: "The final vindication of cricket in any country is that the country owns it. They feel that they are an intrinsic part of it. They have that pride in and that feeling of 'this is my team these [are] my players who are walking out playing for us.' So, it’s very important [to have] an awareness program that spreads the word of cricket right throughout the US. Those are the things that really matter at the end."
A lot needs to be done for USACA to successfully create such an awareness across USA.
First, it must communicate better. It must stop playing favorites at the regional and national level. It must introduce processes that are sustainable. It must recognize and support grassroots efforts. It must channel the entire system to assist in the execution of a long-term vision. Above all, USACA must truly and sincerely strive for inclusion and must acknowledge and undo the wrongs that were committed.
Otherwise, we will continue to live in a fool's paradise.
[Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of DreamCricket.com]