The Rose Bowl, Southampton. Kemar Roach runs in with the duke ball in hand. Overcast conditions. Roach bangs the ball on a good length around the fourth stump and Rory Burns dead-bats it in the most solid manner. Cricket makes a comeback in its inventor's soil after a long break due to the pandemic. But those who have little knowledge of the history of the very British game are not well aware of its American connection.
England, although being the inventors of the game, were not part of the first-ever international cricket match on record, unlike the first international match after the Coronavirus hiatus. The first-ever international cricket match saw the United States take on Canada on September 24, 1844, in New York. The match was attended by over ten thousand spectators. People know baseball as one of the United States' premier sports these days. But as surprising as it is, even in 1855, the New York press was still devoting more space to coverage of cricket than of baseball.
Cricket came into being in British North America by the beginning of the 18th century. It continued to be a recreational sport as America became independent in 1783.
Cricket enjoyed immense popularity along the East Coast corridor between New York and Philadelphia where as many as 5,000 people used to play the game for recreation.
The first-ever cricket club, exclusively for the Americans, was founded by the students of Haverford College. The short-lived club helped people develop their love and interest for the game, which led to the foundation of the historic Philadelphia Cricket Club in 1854. By this time, Philadelphia became the cricket capital of America and it still remains the crucible of North American cricket.
Sides from England toured the US in the latter half of the 19th century. The touring side of 1872-73 led by R.A. Fitzgerald even had the great W.G. Grace.
But the growth was halted big time by the exposure of baseball. Scientific batting techniques and specialized field placements were being applied to baseball that players had previously learned from cricket. Thus cricket, despite the initial growth, was slowly losing ground to basketball as the local cricket clubs were contributing to their own downfall by encouraging crossovers to basketball.
Prominent cricket clubs started turning away from cricket and paying attention to other sports. With baseball getting all the attention recreationally and professionally, cricket began to sink into oblivion.
The Imperial Cricket Conference (ICC), formed in 1909, restricted its membership to countries of the British Empire. It contributed to the decline of the popularity of cricket in the countries outside the empire, including the USA.
Despite the decline, Philadelphia Cricket Club continued playing first-class cricket till 1913. The team played as many as 89 first-class matches and produced some fine cricketers. John Barton King who played for the club is widely acknowledged as the greatest American cricketer. Sir Pelham Warner described him as one of the finest bowlers of all time.
Cricket remained a minor pastime in the USA until the mid-1960s. In 1965, the United States of America was admitted as an associate member of ICC. They started participating in the ICC trophies that launched in 1979 and gradually kept improving.
They played in all the editions of the ICC Trophy, though they couldn't pass the first round until the 1990 tournament. They reached the plate final of the 1994 tournament but opted out due to prior travel arrangements.
USA finished sixth in the 2001 ICC Trophy, their best performance till date. Winning the ICC Six Nations Challenge, they qualified for the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy. There they made their ODI debut against New Zealand at the Oval on September 10, 2004.
A poor exhibition in the 2005 ICC Trophy robbed the USA of full ODI status. ICC subsequently expelled them from the 2005 Intercontinental Cup.
They made a comeback into cricket the next year and the reinstatement permitted them to participate in Division cricket. They were promoted to Division three after some good performances in 2011. They hung on for three years but were relegated after finishing fifth in 2014 Division three.
In 2016, the ICC again suspended USACA expressing concerns about the governance, finance and their cricketing activities.
On June 22, 2017, the ICC full council voted unanimously to expel the USACA. Eventually, in January 2019, a new governing body known as USA Cricket was officially admitted by the ICC as a new associate member.
The USA continued experiencing success and failure in Division cricket. In April 2019, after finishing in the top four of the 2019 Division two tournament, USA qualified for the 2019-22 ICC World Cup League two. The tournament offers an opportunity to make it into the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. All matches in the Cricket World Cup League 2 are played in the One Day International format and USA became the 20th nation to acquire ODI status.
Cricket's been there and there about in the USA. In 2015, the Cricket All-Stars Series took place in the USA where renowned retired cricketers featured. That tournament drew a huge amount of spectators.
West Indies have been playing home T20Is against touring teams in the USA. Internationally acclaimed cricketers like Xavier Marshall and Rusty Theron have played for the USA. American fast bowler Ali Khan has been playing in top franchise leagues.
Recently English fast bowler Liam Plunkett has expressed his interest to play for the USA. With some big names coming in and things finally going USA's way, one can certainly dream of 'making America great again' in cricket.