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By Venu Palaparthi
For cricketers across America, 2012 was a year that held a lot of promise but it was also a year in which the occasional bright spots were eclipsed by an unresponsive cricket administration.
USACA began the year with a successful player camp in Fort Lauderdale. Players praised the camp calling it the best run USACA camp since the one held in December 2009 ahead of the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier. “Unfortunately lack of planning, lack of management skills has probably cost us a lot. We have started now on a positive note,” Ahmed Jeddy, chair of the USACA cricket committee said.
With that, the bouquets for USACA’s administrators ended. As the winter turned to spring, USACA made some perplexing moves that will undoubtedly haunt the organization for some time to come.
“This year, voting is more than just the core responsibility of citizenship; it is an act of defiance against malicious political forces determined to reduce access to democracy,” noted The New York Times in an editorial column titled ‘The Struggle to Cast a Vote’ ahead of the USA presidential election. “Public outcry, with support from the courts, may eventually remove these threats to democracy.”
Alas, the cricket community could not accomplish what a nation of 311 million could. Neither the public outcry nor the courts succeeded in protecting the democratic process from a compliance process that began for all the right reasons but ended up being used as a tool for disenfranchisement.
The much awaited USACA election in April comprising only 15 leagues was about as inclusive as you might expect in a tin-pot regime masquerading as a democracy.
As expected, the election delivered power into the hands of Gladstone Dainty and his friends. If anyone thought that USACA would now focus on the job of rebuilding, having freed itself of the distractions of a pesky opposition, they were proved wrong. USACA proceeded to underwhelm on nearly every front.
On the membership front, expressing disappointment that only around one third of USACA’s membership was in good standing, USACA issued a media release in which it promised to help leagues become compliant. USACA ended the year with an even smaller membership and now has just four functioning regions and 12 leagues in good standing. By DreamCricket.com's estimate, over 705 hard-ball cricket clubs or teams in the US operate outside of the USACA framework.
On the administrative front, a quick look at USACA’s 100-Day Plan which was announced in May offers every MBA student a lesson on why it is important NOT to set expectations that one cannot realistically meet. Not satisfied with falling behind on its initial 100-day plan goals, USACA set itself additional goals on October 5, 2012, when it promised "coaching sessions and high performance clinics will be conducted by Robin Singh within 45 days" of the press release. In the same release, USACA announced that "preparation [for ICC Division 3 tournament and ICC World Cup Qualifiers] will be complete within 45 days from the date of this press release." Like many previous USACA promises, these too were quickly forgotten.
On the tournament front, by February, it was clear that USA was not in a position to host the ICC WCL Division Four tournament.
Pic (Right) - Screengrab from USACA website. All national fixtures scheduled for 2012 were cancelled.
At the national level, USACA’s U-17 tournament was first postponed, then cancelled. All other national tournaments - USACA Women's National Tournament, the U-15 National Tournament, and the U-19 National Tournament - met with the same fate. The men’s national mutated into an East-West ‘shuffle’ comprising one 50-over match and a trial T20.
The few tournament opportunities for the players were courtesy of the ICC. There were also a few successful independent tournaments organized by the New York Public Schools Athletic League, American Cricket Federation, American College Cricket and Cricket Council USA, but hardly any from USACA.
Financially, the promised CHA millions are yet to arrive and recent news reports point to a potential divide between CHA and USACA. Even more distressing, USACA exited the year with more lawsuits than ever before.
On the field, inadequate tournament preparations notwithstanding, Team USA did the country proud. At the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier, USA finished 12th with three wins in nine games. However, the wins were notable because they came against Bermuda, Oman and Scotland, teams that are currently ranked higher than USA on the World Cricket League ladder.
The following month, the USA Women were unlucky to be edged out of the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Qualifier on net run rate as rain washed out their final against Canada in the ICC Americas Division One tournament held in the Cayman Islands.
In July, USA took part in the ICC Americas U-18 Match Play Camp with each team - Bermuda, Canada and USA - playing four matches. Canada finished at the top of the table after accumulating the most points based on the bonus point structure of the event. USA did well to win their last two matches as the boys began to understand each other’s strengths and gel as a team.
September took USA to the ICC WCL Division Four event in Malaysia where USA conducted a successful campaign and regained their place in Division Three, thus keeping USA’s hopes alive for 2015 World Cup qualification.
Pic (above) - USA celebrates on a damp Bayuemas Oval after gaining promotion to next year's ICC WCL Division Three in Bermuda. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
While the players did reasonably well, it was clear that with better preparation and planning, they could have done even better. In fact, at the end of the ICC Americas U-18 Match Play Camp, USA U-18 coach Mumtaz Yusuf said, “There’s a lot of work to be done. We need to have the team together for a longer period of time if you want to really succeed.” Golden words, but quickly forgotten by USACA. Nothing was done for the remainder of 2012 for USACA's junior development teams and no plans have been announced as we enter 2013.
In the good news category, though the much talked about USA T20 league was pushed back to 2013, the two T20 matches featuring West Indies and New Zealand helped to improve Lauderhill’s reputation as an international cricket venue.
Cricket continues to thrive at the grassroots without inputs from the national board. The number of hard ball and soft ball cricket leagues in USA is estimated to have crossed 100. The US Youth Cricket Association has successfully scaled its operations and continues to introduce cricket to schools at a faster rate than ever before. More academies and indoor practice facilities have opened in 2012 than in any single year in history. At the college level, American College Cricket now has affiliated clubs in over 50 colleges and its championships are televised on TV Asia. Several leading brands associated with the sport, including ESPN, MoneyGram, and MetLife, have made initial forays into USA.
Cricket in the USA now finds itself at a fork in the road. Years of intrigue and divisive politics have made the nation’s cricketers insular. Many are unconvinced about the benefits of associating with each other and it remains to be seen if recent efforts by ACF to galvanize the leagues will prove successful.
Meanwhile, USACA’s recent track record has not exactly enhanced its prestige. In fact, USACA’s influence over cricket has faded to the point of irrelevance. USACA’s future relies heavily on the lifeline of ICC recognition and good news emanating from CHA.
Fittingly, the best news and the most positive quote for USACA came on the last day of 2012. “I look forward to leading USACA’s national efforts, as well as working closely with the member leagues, clubs [underlined for emphasis] and partners to ensure cricket’s vast potential in the US is realized,” the newly appointed CEO Darren Beazley is quoted as saying.
USA's cricket community hopes that Mr. Beazley will work closely with all leagues. If he has followed USA cricket lately, he should know that there are hardly any member leagues left.
Here's wishing everyone a better 2013.