I played twice against Hollywood Cricket Club

Cricket undoubtedly has a future in the US

Despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, the US is no stranger to cricket. It was played in North America by the British colonists in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the very first international cricket match ever recorded took place in 1844 between the US and Canada. But thereafter, the game was supplanted in America by the shorter and simpler attractions of baseball, popularised after the Civil War by veteran Colonel Abner Doubleday. Still, cricket continued to flourish as a minority pursuit for leisured gentlemen, and the Philadelphia all-rounder of the turn of the century, J. Barton King, considered one of the fastest and best pacemen in the world, even led the first-class bowling averages in England in 1908.

In my days of playing club cricket in such far-flung outposts of the cricketing world as Geneva and Singapore in the 1980s, I recall playing twice against a touring team of the Hollywood Cricket Club. I could scarcely believe it existed, but they were very proud of the fact that a former England Test captain had established the club in 1932—Cecil Aubrey Smith, who became a Hollywood star of some distinction, playing “officer and gentleman” roles in the early decades of cinema.


For all this heritage, most Americans have no idea about the greatest sport on earth and the US has, for the most part, been an unlikely location for it to flourish, until an influx of cricket playing migrants (mainly from the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean) brought a passion for cricket with them. Cricket’s gradual American revival, initially as a weekend sport for expatriates, spawned a sporting subculture that attracted attention—a phenomenon marvellously chronicled in Joseph O’Neill’s 2008 novel, Netherland. In time, the children of some of these cricket-obsessed migrants picked up the sport themselves and some discovered a genuine talent for it. The result is a hybrid US cricket team, dominated inevitably by Indians, some born there and some originally from over here. A US team of eight Indians, joined by a handful of Pakistanis, South Africans and Barbadians, stunned Pakistan in the T20 World Cup this month and gave India a stiff challenge in their next match. The US team even features an enterprising cricketer born in Canada and living in the US, who has played for both countries and switched loyalties four times. Improbably enough, his name is Nitish Kumar!

Their successful performances naturally elicited a great amount of amused comment and admiration in the mother country. One Indian wag observed that Pakistan was beaten not by the Indian A team, not the Indian B team, but by the Indian H1B team! Another cracked that Pakistan lost twice to Indians—first to Indian green-card holders and then to Indian Aadhaar card holders. Another claimed that when India played the US, half the US team was also singing the Indian national anthem!

Cricket undoubtedly has a future in the US. This was not obvious when, in 1975, I went to the US as a graduate student and found it challenging even to access cricket scores, which were of course never reported in the American newspapers. Today, in the era of the internet and satellite television, not only can one get the scores in real time at the click of a mouse, but one can even watch any match by subscribing to a cricket channel called WillowTV. It is very much easier to be an American cricket fan today, and to be inspired not just by weekend cricket, but by a professional Twenty20 cricket league called Major League Cricket, featuring prominent international stars in teams like the San Francisco Unicorns and the Seattle Orcas (owned by no less eminent a New American than Microsoft chief Satya Nadella).

In an attempt to popularise the game even further, the US was invited to co-host this year’s T20 World Cup. It’s a good precursor to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, which will feature cricket after over a century. The US cricket team’s performance at the World Cup is an important stepping stone to building a fan-base in the world’s most affluent sports market. Cricket USA could well declaim: “2028, here we come!”