The History of Cricket in the United States

The game is both very British and, to Americans, very confusing. But it was once our national pastime, and its gaining fans on these shores.

Philadelphia was, and remains, the crucible of North American cricket. In 1908, native son J. Barton King set records that stood for 40 years. (CC Morris Cricket Library and United States Cricket Museum at Haverford College, Haverford, PA)
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In recent years, cricket has moved beyond New York and Philadelphia to Dallas, Wichita, Los Angeles and Atlanta, the home of Desmond Lewis, 60, a soft-spoken Jamaican who used to play at the pinnacle of the game. (In 1971 he played for the West Indies team and batted alongside Sir Garfield Sobers, a player of Babe Ruthian stature.) "When I came here, you couldn't find 11 people to make a team," Lewis says. "Now we have 23 teams in the Atlanta region, with about 400 players actively involved." As we talk, his team, Tropical Sports Club, is on its way to defeating North Atlanta, which includes Faizan Sayeed, 19. Sayeed, who immigrated to Atlanta from Pakistan in 1990, helped the U.S. Under-19 team to a surprise victory over Canada in a world championship qualifying match in Toronto last September. When I ask if he feels more American or Pakistani, he says: "When it comes to cricket, I definitely feel [more] American."

A new organization, Major League Cricket, recently unveiled a ten-year development plan intended to rebuild the sport from the ground up by working with schools and other local authorities to develop young talent. But can cricket find a place in a culture dominated by football, baseball, basketball and NASCAR? In a sporting age too often defined by inflated egos and commercialism, it would be nice to think so. "Liberty must be developed from within," wrote John Lester, who was born in Britain but played his cricket in Philadelphia. "And there is only one form of government that can breed it—personal self-government.... If cricket is alien to our ideal of democracy, so much the worse for our democracy."

Or, as Alfred Reeves puts it, "Cricket is the only sport in the world that has gentlemanly conduct written into the laws. Part of my gospel is: It's the game first; then it's the team; then it's the player. You're last. And don't ever forget it." Those sentiments may sound somewhat treacly nowadays, but there was a time when they made perfect sense.


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