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By Tom Melville
If the troubled, ill-fated, and ultimately abandoned national cricket tournament in Indianapolis had been played to its conclusion on Sunday, all the players could have seen their wallets lighter by a dollar, which was the fine mandated by the 1837 Indianapolis city ordinance prohibiting cricket from being played in the city on Sundays.
And this was not the earliest evidence of cricket in Indiana, since we know the game was being played in the state as early as the 1820s and over the century at least a dozen state towns and colleges had cricket clubs, from Elkhart in the far north to Evansville on the Ohio River. Students at Notre Dame were playing the game by 1864 and one of the state’s Civil War era governors seemed to believe he could win points with voters by declaring, during his election campaign, that he had been the “finest cricket player at his college.”
A sizable portion of the 1500 visitors who streamed into Conner Prairie, Indiana’s largest living history museum situated in the near north suburbs of Indianapolis, discovered all this in an up-close-and-personal way through the hands-on 19th century cricket games that were run throughout the day during the site’s 1863 Fourth of July celebration.
It was a fully befitting activity as the 1860s had been flush years for Indianapolis cricket, a time when the city’s local cricket club kept up a busy schedule playing with other prominent Midwestern clubs in Columbus, Louisville and Cincinnati.
Perhaps more importantly, the event provided a rare opportunity to gauge the sentiments and impressions of the Indianapolis “man-on-the-street” in the wake of the city’s efforts to enhance its international image through its high profile association with cricket, an effort which, based upon an informal canvassing of those who took part in the Conner Prairie cricket games, had, regrettably, not born much fruit.
Of the dozens of visitors who took part In the informal 19th century cricket games that day not a single individual was aware of the circumstances surrounding the tournament’s cancellation or that a national cricket tournament had even been planned for the city. Only a single solitary individual knew the city was building a designated cricket ground (though, as a result of his experience with the game, he announced his intention to “check it out”).
All this once again underscored the deficiencies of a “top down” strategy for promoting cricket in the United States, the belief that the active support of a few influential individuals is all that’s necessary to attract the interest and support of a broader populace that has had no direct experience with cricket or any frame-of-reference to the game. Like Lauderhill, Indianapolis seems to have placed its confidence in a misguided faith that the influence of who is promoting cricket is more important than how it’s being promoted.
Anyone who had the best interest of American cricket in mind has to wish Indianapolis officials well in their efforts to leverage cricket to the benefit of its desired image as an international city, especially in a country where it’s so very rare for cricket to attract any support or positive attention from mainstream American society.
And perhaps the day may come when city officials will succeed in impressing upon the people of Indianapolis that cricket is one of the great sports of the world. But the individuals who went away from Conner Prairie on July 4th were certainly more impressed knowing cricket had been the sport of their ancestors.