By John L. Aaron
Whereas most men can stand on their own two legs if they are not generally drunk, the sport of cricket requires a third leg, as much as a bar stool needs at least three legs to be firmly situated in supporting an inebriated person. Cricketers are as passionate about the sport of cricket and drunken with the spirit that consumes the rest of us as fans and administrators alike, thus together we can stand firmly on three legs, behind the sport.
As a youngster participating in children’s athletic festivals, I remember competing in the three-legged race competition with my older cousin. Together, we would tie two of our four legs together, so that we hobbled along during the race on our two outside legs while supporting ourselves at the shoulders, and using our legs tied together in the center, as our supporting source of balance. It took some doing, but once we got it down pat, it became a fluid movement that saw us cross the finish line and ahead of many others.
This article, though not intended to be a seminal work on the sport of cricket in the USA, nonetheless will seek to establish a path for the discourse of how best to sustain the sport. Cricket in the USA has ties dating back to the Father of this nation, and the ultimate bragging rights of being the first international sporting event between two nations – the USA and Canada in 1844.
Since baseball firmly established itself as the pastime sport accompanying mom’s apple pie in the USA, cricket; regarded by some as the unwelcomed cousin of baseball languished between the history pages of the dusty journals of the 18th century and recently more closely identified with the new Americans – the Expatriates, thus establishing a fragile system with no firm foundation for the growth of the sport in this country, although many may argue that soccer did not have any firm roots as well. This leads us to the question – Is there a sustainable future for cricket in the USA, as much as soccer? The latter is still struggling to rise and stand shoulder to shoulder with mainstream sports such as baseball, American football and basketball, but is being sustained by an infrastructure built from the ground up and managed from the top down.
Americans have an insatiable appetite for sports, which affords cricket a fighting chance. However, in order for the sport of cricket to be sustained in the USA, it first has to grow, and in order for it to grow, it needs at least the three-legged structure alluded to earlier.
Without players, the sport of cricket would not be the sport of cricket, would it now? Therefore, cricket players are an essential part of the structure of cricket, however, in order for the sport to grow, the current players must commit to paying forward. For those expats like myself with cricket as part of our DNA and who would like to see the sport grow here, now is an excellent time to make a worthwhile contribution to the cause by volunteering to pass on the skills we have learnt to the younger enthusiasts, either through coaching or organizing “pick up” games to create an interest and generate a genuine buzz.
For players currently active in the sport, mentoring younger players is an excellent way of paying forward what you have been taught. It is said that to teach, is to learn twice, so there is possibly something in the effort for the quasi coach, as well.
Some players can become involved as administrators of the sport and inculcate an awareness of the culture of the sport on and off the field of play, because they more than some others understand the nuisances of the sport and wish to be a part of its growth.
Those simply wishing to be cheerleaders also have an important role to play in sustaining the sport, since no player enjoys playing to an empty stadium – it’s simply not fun. Thus fan and player go hand-in-hand, forming an alliance that encourages excellence.
An ardent fan is like a jolt of Red Bull to a caffeine addict and is often the difference between a mediocre performance and one worth remembering. However, caution dictates that fans can be as helpful, as they can be hurtful. The ability of a group of spectators to affect the outcome of a match, or to contribute to a dismal performance of a player, is uncanny and often times unconsciously done, except in the case of those fans determined to disrupt or deliberately affect a performance or the outcome of a match.
Overall, the enthusiasm of fans in attendance, whether rooting in a pro or con-like manner will generate energy that fuels the sustainability of the sport, while encouraging non-believers, naysayers, and those generally uninterested parties, to take a closer look at cricket as equally enjoyable as baseball, or Mom’s apple pie.
Like any organized sporting activity, cricket needs structure, staffing, and individuals with the skill-sets to make a positive contribution to the sport, its growth and sustainability.
Volunteers and other enthusiasts, forming a bond with player and fan, not always in the most acceptable of situations, largely manage cricket in America, but the role of a cricket administrator is not unlike that of a soccer mom, who encourages, transports and supports the participation of an offspring in the fast-growing sport phenomena of soccer. However, because cricket is now largely an adult sport in the USA, the growth of the sport needs a broader administrative approach than the one-mom-one-child approach.
It is important that cricket administrators not only manage the week-to-week, season-to-season activity of the sport, but they must envision the long-term growth of the sport, if it is to be sustained, beyond the season-to-season approach. It is utterly important that administrators know the sport, stay abreast of its changing laws and dynamics, and be flexible enough to adapt to a changing sports environment, so as to embrace and harness the success that is derived from excellent administration.
The growth and development of qualified coaches and umpires are also important facets to sustaining the sport. The recognition of such bodies to regulate coaching and umpiring will also complement the growth of the sport.
The involvement of players in the administrative process, whether on a club, league, regional or national level is important for the growth and sustainability of the sport in the USA, as well. If not, we run the risk of encouraging an “us versus them” culture that would be detrimental to the sustainability.
Finally, despite sitting on a three-legged bar stool, it would be so much safer to sit on one that has four legs, for a more secure way of sustaining the weight of the sport, in any such initiative. That fourth leg would be sponsorship.
Sponsorship wears many uniforms, but all aimed at ad-dressing the sustainability of the sport. Some sponsors come dressed as hearty enthusiasts of the sport and contributing something beyond the average sideline fan. It may be something as simple as supplying a boxed lunch for a squad of junior players at a cricket camp, or as much as the overall financial sponsorship of a national team – outfitting them in the red, white and blue of the USA, complete with equipment kits, airfare, hotel accommodation, and a myriad of other ways that demand the exchange of currency from one’s hand to another.
An individual or an entity willing to support an initiative or a team, in its effort to promote the sport and encourage its participants often sees sponsorship as an encouraging medium. Such a commitment should never be taken lightly by those on the receiving end, because the return on the investment of the sponsor is often not realized in additional business revenue, or admiration, unless of course the sponsor sees it as an opportunity to additionally promote his or her business, or receive charitable tax credit.
Sponsorship should be supported by excellence on and off the field, more so if the colors worn by a team publicly represent the sponsoring organization, complete with logos and/or other branding insignias. Teams owe it to the sponsoring organizing to uphold the principles of that organization and to see themselves as ambassadors of the organization, regardless whether they work for or have never stepped foot into that organization’s offices or facilities.
The sustainability of cricket, not unlike any other sport or interest, demands the continuous involvement of player, fan, administrator, and need I say sponsor, however, the onus is on the player and administrator, because they are the pivotal cornerstones of the sustainability of the sport.
The development of grass roots cricket is vitally important, as the next generation of cricketers will determine whether the sport can sustain itself going forward. Therefore, the encouragement of youth cricket academies, organizations such as the United States Youth Cricket Association and other pee-wee cricket type entities geared toward the development of cricket, is absolutely necessary. Here is where parents, teachers, cricketers and other enthusiasts can play a very meaningful role at the grass roots level.
Schools can and should play a role in developing and sustaining the sport as part of their curriculum, not only because cricket builds character, strong bones and enthusiastic minds, but also the affordability of the sport and the opportunity it gives children is of immense value. It offers children, especially those new immigrants arriving from cricket-playing nations an opportunity to ease into a mainstream-American culture by the painless transition extended to the child, going from one culture to another and expected to be fully immersed, while in a new learning environment.
The New York Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) is a clear indication of the need for the introduction of cricket to its sports calendar, as it received an enormous response when the PSAL cricket program was launched some four years ago. Ironically, the first championship high school is aptly named Newcomers High School – a high school geared toward new immigrants, particularly those from the South East Asian corner of the world.
The PSAL cricket program is often viewed as providing a platform for the sustainability of the sport in the New York City area, and hopefully the catalyst for a nation-wide initiative.
Colleges can be seen as an extension of the PSAL program, while providing a platform for the growth and sustainability of the sport at an intermediate level.
Collegiate sports are big business, in more than one way and often provide scholarship opportunities for less than fortunate scholars. Thus cricket at the collegiate level can help sustain the sport as it continues to take shape. American College Cricket now in its fourth year is set to play a pivotal role in USA cricket, bridging the gap between high school and national teams, while attracting talented players from the gene pools of academia.
The American College Cricket Spring Break Championship at the Central Broward Regional stadium is fast becoming the social network axis of the 18-23 year old cricket and cricket enthusiasts. Fledgling as it now is, I predict that in 5-10 years such a platform may be the springboard for sustaining an IPL-type league, and not unlike the NBA and NFL.
The sustainability of cricket in the USA needs to go beyond the pee-wee, high school and collegiate levels. The inclusion of cricket in the curriculum of recreational centers and other non-traditional educational institutions could be seen as a way to totally immerse the average cricketer in an environment of both learning and enjoyment.
With such organized immersion, players will make the transition to teams and clubs much easier, bringing with them skill-sets learned in an American sports environment that will help to sustain the sport in the same environment, as so many other sports.
Cricket leagues and regions have an integral role in the sustainability of the sport and as leaders in the transition stage of amateur athlete to professional cricketer. Like many other sports leagues and regional administrations play key roles in feeding the national squads of the country, therefore their role is a key one in the preparation of the cricketer for national service and ambassadorship of the sports sustainability.
At the national level, the sustainability of the sport does not end, but in many ways begin. The national cricket association has to lead from the front, if it’s to maintain its charter as principal cheerleader and custodian of the sport in the USA.
There is no exposure like national exposure – it’s the largest stage, widest screen, greatest megaphone for the sport in the USA, as such the onus is on the United States of America Cricket Association to provide a stocked bar for that four-legged stool, if the sport of cricket is to be sustained in the USA