By Sham Ali
The faithful cricketer sometimes takes the rough with the smooth if he gives his heart to cricket. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, it’s often a lifelong commitment that demands steadfastness in adversity and a healthy appreciation of the good times when they deign to make an appearance. It does not require a doctorate in psychology to understand the full gamut of blissful emotions and sometimes despair in the minds of the average cricketer when the curtains are drawn on another cricket season in the New York Region and the expectations of a better one in the next year.
Such expectations were high at the turn of the century when the New York Region (NYR) executives decided to change the previous culture and start on a clean slate. They galvanized their efforts and in a concerted move to once and for all put the game on a firm platform with the hope of ridding itself of the administrative fallacies of the last three decades and subsequently take a turn for the better by building the bridge to the future. They rolled in the heavyweights around town and it appeared that something will finally happen in the Region. The plans got under way and the funds began to roll in to support the various highly contested inter-countries matches, and the occasional one-off ‘all stars games’ began to pop up around the region with notable sponsors, prize monies, and individual incentives for players.
The future looked bright for the game in the region. The new format attracted a sizeable crowd at the games as league officers and region administrators enjoyed the appetite for change and fully accepted the new order. The prize monies and incentives attracted cricketers from every corner who began to ‘feel the green’ Benjamin green that is, and they were looking forward to these games. The popular and highly competitive inter-league competition that had highlighted the cricket in the region and that which showcased some of the best cricketers who have graced the New York scene over the years, and who played the game for the love of it, was sidelined into virtual extinction.
And just like that as the new order began to moisten the palate of cricketers and spectators the administrators began to wrestle among themselves for the right to govern, a development that gravely compromised the governance of the region, and suddenly the ghost of the past resurfaced and reappeared in the mirror. The energy of the region’s administrative body that was visible at the turn of the century began to dwindle rapidly and the spark that ignited the sponsors and proponents of the inter-countries competition and all the grandiose developments simply pales into insignificance.
However, the region still had its constitutional obligations to the national governing body, the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) to provide a Senior XI, U19 and U15 region teams to participate in the USACA’s national tournaments. These obligations were once again being fulfilled in scampering at the eleventh hour and again with players chosen from some leagues and sometimes from those who were conveniently available. The NYR has an abundance of talented cricketers who were willing to represent their region whenever they are called upon. These cricketers did their best and were successful in every tournament even though the best cricketers were not short-listed and that leaves one in awe IF only the region had been better prepared with a better structure in place.
It was quite unfortunate that the region would compromise its ‘selection policy’ time and time again, and repeatedly and portentously showed the willingness to encourage indiscipline to justify its means. Management titles were given to anyone and everyone with a big enough ego and sometimes on a default basis. A self-absorbed leadership is hardly good news for the region, however, well-intentioned they might be, the decisions that matter are often taken in isolation and within the confines of selected minds, which is bereft of true leadership. That modus operandi and level of functioning has become the norm for a regional administrative body that apparently has been fractured in too many places and has had too many self-inflected wounds that it clings to anything for a quick mend.
And while the many ‘administrators’ at the top throw their verbal punches to gain leadership and wrestled among themselves to lance the boils of discontent that erupted, and their fruitless effort to quell the surge of insularity that has developed, they were numb to the gravity of frustration among their constituents. Notwithstanding, there were a few who held on to the cricket lifeline and were committed to doing their part to the development of the game in the region regardless of the divide. These developments came through various avenues, and ironically the region was credited for the accomplishments.
The push for the game to be implemented in the public schools over the last decade finally came to fruition a few years ago after Michael Holding, the West Indies ace fast bowler and now a world-renowned cricket commentator, came to the US under the directive of the ICC development initiative in 2000. He made a presentation to John Adams High School (JAHS) through the efforts of JAHS teacher Sham Samaroo (ondriveupdate.com), and the rest is history. The project NYC Public School Athletic League (NYCPSAL) is now spearheaded by the vibrant NYC public schools Cricket Commissioner Bassett Thompson. The project has been very successful in sparking a renewed interest in the game among the immigrant youths from the West Indies, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and has spread its roots to about thirty teams among the schools. The inaugural tournament was won by New Comers High School, who repeated the feat in 2009.
The NYC police department eyed cricket as one of the avenues to enhance its community involvement efforts among the immigrant Asian population. They jumped on the cricket band wagon and sponsored a youth Twenty/20 competition (NYCPAL); A project that enjoys the blessings of the NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. The inaugural tournament in 2008 ended with an invitation to all of the teams to City Hall for the awards presentation. The inaugural tournament was won by the now dissolved Cosmos Kings.
The Mayor’s Cup had its roots planted in 2005, and was pioneered by the lone soldier and a champion for cricket in the NYR, Hall of Famer Roy Sweeney. It started as a one-off match to show the cricket community’s appreciation to the city officials for their efforts in promoting cricket in NY. Sweeney was ably assisted by NYR directors Carlyle Miller and others, and that one-off match grew into a competition among the five boroughs with the NYC parks department taking a lead role in organizing the tournament. Sweeney’s wide vision for brighter days for the cricket now bore the fruits of his labor. It took center stage at the most welcomed home to all immigrants in the greatest city of the world through the efforts of then Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Julius Spiegel.
The Mayor of New York, the Honorable Michael Bloomberg opened the doors of the ballroom at Gracie Mansion and welcomed the ‘Who’s Who’ in the New York region’s cricket fraternity, to the 2010 awards ceremony for the Mayors Cup competition. It was an affair unique to the NYR cricket community, and after the formal photographic opportunity, the mayor in his address to the cricketers, recognized the passion for the game shown by the cricket community.
Clifford Hinds-the recipient of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Centennial Award and now a Cricket Hall of Fame inductee, had made a concerted effort at the turn of the century to get the youth program on the move in the region. He had the vision of creating a forum for the youths in the region, and dedicated his time over the years to the program. It moved briefly but was then thwarted by a direct attempt from some corners fighting for control, and a region executive body that was spineless when it was required to make simple common sense decisions to promote youth cricket.
Instead, it allowed indiscipline bureaucrats who rotated within a tiny one-inch diameter circle to dictate terms and that succeeded in blinding that vision. Unfortunately, this madness continues in the region as was evidenced in the U19 tournament in 2008 when the dissatisfied reserve players from the NYR U19 team were whisked away to play for another region, and then to show up to play against the NYR in the tournament, was quite pathetic. In the absence of a ‘proper’ governance and structure, the region will continue along the same old road with new faces taking over and practicing the same if not worst behavior as we have seen recently.
The formation of the Masters (45 years and over) competition spearheaded by Peter Jolly, Austin Hutchinson and others, adds some purpose to playing the game. Make no qualms about it; this competition is certainly not the future of cricket in the region. However, it does add longevity and some renewed life into the game, and for some untold reason; believe it or not, it seems to be the only form of cricket in the region that has a semblance of camaraderie and enjoyment among the cricketers who play the game with pride and an engrained level of dignity. It may also succeed in attracting the spectators away from the other competitions who are very disappointed with the “demanding attitude” of the star players.
Additionally, the Masters is the only competition in the region that has reached beyond these borders to assist the youths in the Caribbean, in a meaningful capacity by providing cricket equipment and school materials to the youngsters. If only the current generation of cricketers are willing to take a lesson in discipline and playing with pride without looking for handouts, there may be hope of restoring the lost art of sportsmanship, and playing the game in the other competitions.
These competitions in many ways bolstered the continuity of the game and upon its conclusion soothe the appetite of cricketers and administrators alike. However, the effort to complete these competitions notably the Mayors Cup and Inter-Countries have been very trying on league officials as they were met with undue demands from cricketers who were unwilling to play the game without some monetary rewards. Pride in playing the game, loyalty, and commitment to clubs have become alien to the game in this century, while the stakeholders temporarily bask in the glory of ‘cheep popularity.’
While the movements over the last two or three decades offered the occasional spark, the only notable development that has injected a healthy dose of hope into the game in the region and probably the US in recent times was the formation of the United States of America Cricket Umpires Association (USACUA). An organization that was spearheaded by the visionary umpire and Hall of Famer, Lloyd Scott, who took the initiative, and was determined to champion the cause of bringing all the umpires under one umbrella by providing training and testing for umpires while the region grappled with its short-comings. The USACUA took the burden away from the leagues, notably the Metropolitan Cricket League, and contributed immeasurably in raising the standard of officiating of the game in the region. The association’s umpires are now recognized by the International Cricket Council and some are qualified to umpire in ICC sponsored tournaments. The association’s president Fitzroy Hayles was recently named to the ICC-Americas Elite Panel of Umpires.
If the region only had a halfway decent structure intact, these developments could have been nurtured in a more progressive way. If the stakeholders in the New York Region had the foresight to implement a restructuring of the region similar to the USACUA and the spine to challenge those who have demonstrated the resistance to change in the past, and who have held the region hostage over the years, the dynamics of the region’s governance and the standard of cricket would have been dramatically different.
A quick look at the region will show that the region is sustained by the leagues, and the leagues are sustained by the clubs. The clubs or more appropriately ‘a collection of players on Sundays’ are the very foundations of the leagues and are held together by two or three people who do all the work and meet all the financial obligations, while the cricketers look for an easy ride and some show up with hat-in-hand.
A simple examination of the club’s structure will reveal that about 90% of the clubs do not have a constitution, or are guided by a basic set of written rules, but are made up of a group of players on the circumference who play to the whims and fancies of the two or three at the center leading by ‘their philosophy.’ That is eminent danger especially if the philosophy is one that subscribes to divisiveness and inherently encourages indiscipline to foster a particular goal. Additionally, while some of the clubs are trying to build for a better tomorrow, there are those as a result of enviousness, is infecting these clubs with the hope of tearing them down. This behavior is quite prevalent and is a troubling reflection of the state of affairs of the cricket, when these types of personalities are floating around the region.
Although a large number of clubs exhibit an untold degree of impotence that directly affect their leagues which subsequently spilled over to the region, there are still ambitious reverberations from some of the region’s executives of great things to come that will bring tons of money with it. That is an ill wind that blows no one any good and an illusion of the imagination of a few, fooling the many in a region that is without a purpose bouncing from pillar to post whenever the USACA’s bell is rung. At the nucleus though, is a region that has been constantly trying to repair its leaky roof and seemingly anesthetized of how really rickety is its foundation. Cricket-minded administrators are a rarity in the NYR and their voices are often drowned in the noise of empty barrels or board politics. It is no wonder why the TRUE potential of the cricket in the New York Region has been so palpably compromised in recent times by the actions of a Region’s Administrative body that operates as though it is mentally challenged.
The demise of the various competitions over the years may have suffered for very specific and sometimes legitimate reasons, however, the collective failure is an indictment of a region that is ethically disoriented and atrociously administered. And therein resides the core of the problem, hence the inability to formulate a strategic plan for the future development of the game in the region. Cricket can be legislated and governed only if its leaders allow it and its future health can only be secured through foresight. For a start, administrators must stop obsessing with power and cheap popularity. Cricket’s tragedy is often its biggest visionary enclosed in a power vacuum whose heart clearly does not beat for cricket. Hope is not lost though and HOPE may be the only shining light on the horizon in a region that has always found a way to suffocate itself.
Until the NYR administration ‘CHANGE ITS CULTURE’ and admits that it has not been transparent, often confusing, and for the most part sketchy in its operations, and the hard work of voluntarily dedicating their time, effort and resources year after year yielded minimum results there will be the same old story on a new day. It is time overdue that they should acknowledge that the outcry from the cricketers and the media for improvement of the region’s business is not an attack on the establishment but a conscious effort to move the region in right direction. IT WOULD BE PRUDENT FOR THE REGION’S EXECUTIVES TO TAKE A BOLD STEP NOW, AND PUT THE REGION’S AFFAIRS AND A SENSIBLE CRICKET STRUCTURE TOGETHER, AND THEN PLAN FOR BIGGER AND BETTER THINGS.
The game is in trouble when the most powerful Region can’t be bothered to run its own cricket affairs properly. The NYR needs to act and ACT NOW. The initial formula is quite basic and simple and can be more comprehensive, detailed and expanded once the initial decision is taken. Group the 150 teams from the seven leagues into divisions with the top 10, 12, or 16 teams in a premiere division and the other teams ranked from Division 1 to perhaps Division 5 or 6 with divisions to facilitate the Under-19 and an Under-15 teams. If that is too drastic, then rank the leagues and use that as a start, etc., etc. If all the leagues do not want to subscribe to this method of moving the region forward, then the focus shall be on those who are willing to pave the way for the future of the game in the region.
Such restructuring will create the opportunity to gradually move up the ladder and an avenue for the more talented cricketers to play at the highest levels. Teams would become more stable, and the standard of the game would improve dramatically, and subsequently providing an avenue for teams and players to compete at their level. It would give the region the ability to represent itself as a singularly powerful and viable entity; to position itself to present more meaningful proposals for more improved playing facilities, and more importantly the ability to tap into the unlimited scope of sponsorships, etc., etc. By taking such an initiative, it would definitely and politely chart a course for the future improvement and success of the NYR.
Unless there is an unwavering effort by the region’s executive body, or what is left of it, to change the culture to one of self-sufficiency and less dependence upon sponsors – as those who pay the Piper calls the tune and revamp the entire cricket structure the road ahead unfortunately will be murky for a region that has been hemorrhaging for sometime.. They must show the guts to stand firm and confront the tentacles of transition that will arise from its restructuring, instead of constantly surrendering to hallow dissentions from some leagues while clinging on to a few mandates from the USACA, the Region will continue to limp along.
And until such time, as the cricket community continues to swell and the brain of New York Region’s cricket administration shrinks, the sporadic whiff of victory will continue to feel like a breath of fresh air for a region that has the potential of being the BEST in the country, BUT has been reduced over the years to running a marathon, uphill, on crutches, on one leg, tugging 150 administratively challenged teams, hoping to arrive at the promised land of riches, sometime soon, in the next century!