(Not) Born in the USA
They were officially the United States national cricket team, but were given the monikers “United Nations Pensioners XI” by a poster on CricketEurope's Netherlands forum and “Guyana Rejects XI” by Patrick Kidd of The Times. But whatever you call them, the age and make up of the team shows that the ICC's dream of cricket taking over the USA is a long way off.
Whilst both nicknames are obviously exaggerated for comic effect, they are not a million miles from the mark. None of the team was born in the USA, four of the players previously played for Guyana at some level, and the average age of the team at the start of the tournament was almost 32. Back in November 2008 I congratulated the USA for having a team at the Americas Championship where the majority was under 30, and for bringing on a couple of US born players. None of that applies now.
This same team will be playing in WCL Division Five in Nepal, as the USA embark on their campaign to reach the 2015 World Cup. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to figure out that the average age of the team come that tournament will be 37. Sudesh Dhaniram will turn 43 during the tournament in Nepal – he is hardly the future of US cricket.
The future of US cricket was seen earlier in the year in New Zealand at the Under-19 World Cup. They may have finished 15th, but there was one encouraging sign – American born players. Eight of the 15 player squad were born in the USA, with players from California, Florida and New York. But where are these players in the senior side?
Given that the Twenty20 Qualifier was the USA's chance to qualify for their second major international tournament, one can perhaps understand them selecting experienced players. But when it comes to WCL5, why not give a few of these youngsters a chance? It's not as if failing to gain promotion to WCL4 ends the chances of qualification for the 2015 World Cup – they could even get relegated to WCL6 and still qualify. The Under-19 players will of course be in their early to mid 20s come 2015 – this is exactly what the USA should be aiming for.
In the current US national squad, as well as no players being born in the USA, none of the players have played for the USA at youth level. How do the other seven teams in the Twenty20 qualifier compare?
The "played at youth level" statistic in the table applies only to officially sanctioned youth cricket run by the ICC or the relevant regional body. The European only Under-13 and Under-23 are ignored in order to present a fair comparison.
So even Canada and the UAE, the other two top associates often criticised for being predominately expatriate based sides, are way ahead of the USA in this regard. If one goes back to the 1994 ICC Trophy, the first tournament the sides all played in, you will find that Canada have improved from one Canadian born player, and the UAE have also improved from one UAE born player. The USA are in the same place they were 16 years ago. Ironically, the UAE had more American born players than the USA did at that tournament.
What about the USA's opponents at the upcoming WCL Division 5 tournament in Nepal? The USA are behind them all, even Bahrain, a country with a population of less than nine major US cities (1.05 million), about half of whom are immigrants.
Not many would say that the USA, or any other country, should be picking sides consisting entirely of players born in the country (though Afghanistan and Kenya should be congratulated for doing so), as that attitude is very naive given the world in which we live in. But if cricket is to take off in the USA, outside of the Caribbean, Indian and Pakistani communities, the US national side must be seen by the US public to be representative. The current side isn't.
It's not as if attempts to introduce cricket to the non-immigrant communities don't work. When one reads stories on attempts to introduce cricket to Americans by actually getting them to play, rather than watch, it always seems to be a success. And after all, if cricket can be introduced to members of Compton gangs in Los Angeles, it should be able to be introduced pretty much anywhere.
The day after the USA were eliminated from the World Twenty20 qualifier, the USACA announced that New Zealand would play Sri Lanka in three Twenty20 internationals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, part of CEO Don Lockerbie's grand “Destination USA” project.
If this is the catalyst for the development of cricket in the USA, then fair enough. But one wonders what demand there is for a New Zealand v Sri Lanka match in the USA. Neither has a population in the USA as significant as that of India or Pakistan, and whilst part of the project aims to be the latest host for Pakistan's “home” games, it remains to be seen just how this will take cricket to the masses in the USA. There is very much an element of preaching to the choir in the whole project.
The cynical will no doubt say that none of this is about developing cricket in the USA, but about making money. They're almost certainly right, and the ICC admitted as much when they announced the USA's participation in the tournament.
But the ICC miss an important point. The vast majority of cricket fans in the USA could not care less about the US national side. And until the side becomes more representative, that won't change.