I know to most of my fellow Americans the game of cricket is the punch line of a joke. It’s played by people dressed in white, the rules are incomprehensible, takes five days, there are tea breaks, and at the end of five days half the time it’s a draw.
Well, yes and no. Test cricket can take five days, and there are tea breaks, though I don’t think they actually drink much tea anymore. There is also One Day cricket which starts mid-morning and runs until someone wins. It take about a day. Then there is 20/20 cricket. Practically invented for TV it takes less time than a baseball game and is all about whacking the ball into the stands, if not right out into the parking lot.
People drink at 20/20 games. Sometimes a lot. The first one I went to was New Zealand vs. the West Indies and there were four and a half streakers (one didn’t get his shorts down before getting tackled by security). Not only is 20/20 a fun game to watch with lots of 6s (home runs) but it’s big business. Last year the Indian Primer League, which has only been operating since 2008, was worth 4.13 billion US dollars and last year’s entire season was only about six weeks long. Top players globally wiggle out of their other contracts to play in the IPL. The really top end player can make a half million with bonuses for bowled wickets (strike outs) and hitting 6’s. A few teams even have cheerleaders. Cricket is not just guys jogging around a green field wearing white. It’s a major sport.
Now what does all this do with the US needing a cricket team? In large chucks of Central Asia cricket is basically a religion. I’ve heard more than one person say that the reason India and Pakistan haven’t nuked each other yet is because it would really fuck up the cricket season. A few years back there was a clip on the news of the president of Pakistan giving some sort of speech. The cricket scores were superimposed in the top corner. Now try to imagine football scores getting superimposed over the President of the United States giving a speech. People would throw fits and the White House would certainly never stand for it.
So, right now, for good or ill, the US has managed to get itself pretty solidly entrenched in the area and is a little short on local support. This is where the cricket team comes in. It takes eleven guys who know most of the rules and can hit a ball with a stick to turn us from over armed, heathen, cowboys, to people who, well, play cricket.
And there will be a certain amount of local support, even for us Americans.
I saw this at the recent Rugby World Cup down in New Zealand. Rugby is New Zealand’s national sport. Think about the way a Texan feels about football and you might get close to the way a serious Kiwi feels about rugby. The US sent the USA Eagles. Ranked 17th in the world. We played four games and lost three. And the New Zealanders came out and cheered for us. People who protest our nuclear policies, environmental policies, foreign policies and shake their heads over our health care and education systems came out and cheered because we were willing to send 20 guys to play their national sport and give it their all. Now as I stated we lost three of four games. We beat Russia who’d never been in a world cup before. But we threw ourselves at every game. We were willing to get bloodied, broken, and in the game against Australia, when we got a try after 25 phases without a penalty, even the Australians cheered (they were kicking our asses at the time, they could afford to be generous). For the 320 minutes of rugby the Eagles played people were willing to put aside any issues they had with the US and just watch us play.
Will we get the same kind of reaction sending a cricket team into central Asia? Probably not that big, there’s a lot of baggage right now, but there will be some good will from it and considering the way things are heading some isn’t that bad. Some can grow into more and enough with a little tending. We are so desperate to win hearts and minds over there we’re exporting Sesame Street. It wouldn’t hurt to try something people are going to be predisposed to enjoy.
Putting together a team wouldn’t be that difficult. We have the Compton Cricket Club who are starting to get good and are already touring a little, and plenty of expats who grew up with the game. A competitive, if not necessarily top ranked team, could be put together in a year with a little funding.
And who should pay for this? How about the State Department? It’s the State Department’s job to try to keep the US on good terms with everyone else. Cricket is one of the largest sports in the world and we don’t play it. At a time when pretty much everyone is in desperate need of common ground maybe we try stepping onto a cricket ground. If for no other reason than to let the rest of the world know that we are at least willing to try to understand something they truly love.