On Tuesday, in the World Cup, the United Arab Emirates lost out in a last-over thriller against Ireland. The previous week they had Zimbabwe on the ropes until Sean Williams rescued them with an unbeaten knock of 76. Whatever happens during the rest of the tournament, the Emirates have established themselves as credible cricketers at the highest level.
In a parallel universe, it would be the USA rather than the UAE impressing the world as doughty underdogs. Both have millions of cricket-crazy immigrants, a television audience that makes sponsors salivate, and enough money to develop a sizeable cricketing infrastructure.
But where the Emirates have grown the game and become one of the strongest associate nations in recent years, American cricket is in terrible shape, largely due to the longstanding incompetency of its board, the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA). Now, after many years of looking the other way, the International Cricket Council (ICC) is getting serious.
Late last month they sent a letter, signed by chairman Narayanaswami Srinivasan, to the USACA board threatening immediate suspension. The letter points to a variety of reasons that would justify such a drastic measure. It spells out concerns over a loan of $200,000 made by the ICC in 2013, which may not have been spent according to the terms of the contract and almost certainly can’t be paid if called back given that the USACA is $4.1 million in debt.
It also details the ways in which it appears that USACA is not complying by the ICC’s membership regulations, including no Chief Executive in position for the past nine months, shenanigans over which domestic cricket leagues are eligible members of the organization, and an annual general meeting that supposedly degenerated into chaotic scenes.
In perhaps the most telling part of the letter, the ICC questions whether “USACA’s actions and governance of the game of cricket in the USA is contrary to the best interests of cricket or the ICC.” There follows an avalanche of criticisms, from its “technical bankruptcy”, ”failure to produce an internationally competitive and properly prepared men’s team”, to the fact that “junior and women’s playing numbers in the US have not increased in recent years.”
It is a devastating critique of why the USA is in World Cricket League Division Four alongside Denmark and Italy rather than at the World Cup with the big boys. As Peter Miller writes in Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts, “the history of USACA has been one of infighting and stagnation.” Now, assuming that the ICC doesn’t have a last minute change of heart, it looks like it will actually be history.
Removing the problem, of course, does not guarantee a solution, although a rival board - the American Cricket Federation - is already in place and has shown themselves, so far, as capable organizers of cricket tournaments. But it is a start. And we can take inspiration from the likes of Nepal and Afghanistan, and Papua New Guinea who all rose rapidly through the ranks of associate cricket.
Is it too much to dream of a future not too far from now where cricket is a thriving minority sport in the United States? Where it is played in colleges the length and breadth of the country, where clubs thrive not only with first and second generation immigrants but also with born and bred Americans, and where replica jerseys for the national side are worn with pride? A future where the USA might play - with dignity, credibility, and success - in the World Cup? Big dreams, certainly, but freed from the shackles of USACA they have at least a chance of coming true.