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Cricket Returns Home
by Marcus Bethel
Aug 17, 2007
If modern cricket dates back to the 1780’s when the sport was first established, then New York would have to be considered a major participant.

According to George B. Kirsch, “The history of American cricket extends far back into the colonial era … but the sports modern phase began with the New York’s St. George Cricket Club in 1839.”

With the first Cricket Clubs in the United States established in the 1700’s, shortly after the game appeared in England, and the first international game developed through rivalry between the U.S. and Canada in the 1840’s, the U.S. has surely seen its period of eminence on the world scene.

When the first annual cricket game between Canada and the United States in the 1840’s was played at Bloomingdale Park in New York; attended by some 10,000 spectators, the oldest international sporting event in the modern world – established 50 years before the Olympic Games – was born.

Cricket was brought over to the British Colonies, as a gentleman’s sport mainly played by officers of the British Army, and took roots through team rivalry. The growing interest for the sport gave rise to the formation of a U.S. team which toured abroad, resulting in teams from the West Indies, Australia and England touring the U.S. and Canada as late as the 1920’s.

The popularity of the sport declined in the U.S. when Americans sought a shorter alternative to the game. Cricket facilities were converted to accommodate golf and tennis, also giving birth to an urban recreation called “town ball.” Developed from cricket, this sport was played on smaller grounds, in a shorter timeframe. Baseball, another game that derived from cricket, was in turn better adopted by Americans and promoted through the cricket clubs in the 1900’s.

It wasn’t until the great migration after World War II, when immigrants from ex-British colonies started coming to the United States that the game was revitalized. Working men from the Caribbean, Pakistan and India began playing the sport in their communities, challenging other conclaves as the rivalry was reestablished.

“Cricket is the only thing that unifies us in the Caribbean and without the caliber of players we won’t have this legacy,” said Cameron Cuffy, a West Indian test cricketer who currently plays with the Cavaliers Cricket Club in the Brooklyn League. If anyone dares to challenge this statement, they just need to take a ride out to Marine Park, Carnasie Park, or the Floyd Bennet Field during the summer when cricket is played. You are sure to meet someone you haven’t seen in years, or a few world class players who come to Brooklyn around this time to play games with the local cricket clubs.

Played in the warm summer months on flat open pitches, cricket is the main pastime of many West Indians and East Indian immigrants. Cricket is contested between two teams of 11 players, with two umpires or referees present, making sure the game is played according to the rules, in the best interest of the sport.

Mainly limited-overs games are played, each over consisting of six legitimate balls, similarly called pitches in baseball. Each bowler or pitcher is restricted to a maximum amount of overs, as he in turn tries to restrict the batsmen from scoring, or get them out. There are 10 ways in which a batsman can get out: bowled, L.B.W. (leg before wicket), caught, stumped, run out, hit wicket, double hit, handled ball, obstructing the field and timed out; taking too long to come out to bat. In this version, each team gets to bat once and the team scoring the most runs in the allotted overs wins the game.

In the longer version, where the game can go on for five days at a time – in the case of test matches – each team gets to bat twice. Because of the time frame and the commitments of the players in the league – the game being played mainly for leisure on weekends – it is somewhat impractical to play this version of the sport in Brooklyn.

“We use to play two days cricket back when we played in the Long Island League in the 80’s,” said Jerva Cox, president of the Carriacou United Cricket Team, “but, we had problems getting the players to return the next day because of work and other commitments.” This contributed to leagues finally opting to the limited overs or one day games. Lately, clubs have been able to contract professionals to add vitality to their teams as the competition grew intense. Because of this, restrictions have been laid out to avoid teams stealing players from other leagues in vital times.

Though the game was originally played in the 18th century by newly minted Americans and European immigrants, it is now mainly played by West Indians, Pakistanis and Indians, the real diehards of the sports. As of June 2006, the United States Cricket Association had reported a total of 35 cricket leagues within its eight divisions or Regions, with the New York Region proudly boasting the greatest participation, having eight leagues.

The game is now contested among the many teams in the various leagues with the best players selected to represents the regions and the cream of the crop picked to represent the United States on the international scene.

With the first junior cricket league in the U.S. opened in Brooklyn in 2004, and having twice as many leagues and associations today as there were in 1990, we can firmly assume that cricket is back home to stay. With this steady growth and the continued effort of the United States Cricket Association to promote the game, we can anticipate much more in the future for the second most popular sport in the world.

The USACA is not alone in its promotion of the game in New York. The West Indies Cricket Board had pledged its support for the New York Region, and with the West Indies Team’s participation in two one-day games against a US team on July 8 and 9, 2006, at the Floyd Bennet field, New York can claim its stake once again.

Both games were won by the West Indies team, but not without the US team showing some resistance to Brian Lara, test cricket triple record holder, and his boys. For Roy Sweeney, president of the Cricket Promoters Association, who holds the title of being “the greatest cricket commissioner in Brooklyn” it was a success. Sweeney has been quite instrumental in promoting cricket around the New York region, having brought West Indian players the likes of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner to name a few, hosting major games in Mt. Vernon and Randal’s Island in the 80’s. He has also pledged his support, assisting in the development of cricket facilities here in Brooklyn, for further promotion of the game. Presently, parts of the Carnasie Park used to play cricket is being refurbished.

With the 2007 cricket season in progress, provisions have been set in place for bigger things for the Brooklyn cricket League, an establishment that has been around since 1936.

“I was astonished to see on a letter head that this league has been around such a long time and is still in this condition,” said Leroy Peters, president of the league. Peters has been playing in the Brooklyn League since 1997, with the Grenada United Cricket Team. Having been elected to the post in February of 2005, he has been able to lift the standard of the game from the low it reported in the three preceding years.

“Everyone has commended me on the way the competition and participation this year,” said Peters, “but, I need to get to the non-responsive members in the committee, so we can do much better in the future,” he said.

Brooklyn League has even seen its first female president in Joyce Hammond in 2005. Unfortunately, this was one of the worst years the league has had in terms of participation and response, having lost major players, and even teams to other leagues. This past season, Roraima, a Guyanese team, has returned to capture the league title, after a two year absence from the scene.

Hopefully, with a good response from the Caribbean and other interested business in the New York area, the league will be able to mobilize some sponsors, so greater strides could be made.

“I have been in talks with Sweeney so we can try to go to the businesses for sponsorship,” Leroy Peters said. Hopefully, with ESPN-Star signing a $1.1 billion, eight-year deal with the ICC, cricket’s world-governing body, for the television rights from 2007 to 2015 to bring cricket into homes all over the world, the business owners can see this as an opportunity to get across to more perspective clientele and thus pledge their support for this great sport here in Brooklyn.

This move could very well be a signal of greater things for cricket everywhere including metropolitan Brooklyn, New York, where the city’s mayor has teamed up with the Parks Department to sponsor the 2007 twenty20 cricket competition. The competition bowled off in Marine Park May 5th and continued into the coming weeks to coincide with the League hosted Championship. This aspect of the season deemed a major success, though the season is far from over, spectators are and officials are already looking forward to next years. Heads up Brooklyn, let’s play Ball!

More Views by Marcus Bethel
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