Long before baseball captured the American imagination, another sport—also played with a bat and a ball—was part of the cultural landscape.
Although the sport of cricket is today thought of more as belonging to quiet English summers and to hot days in Asia, even before the United States came into being cricket was played in the New World, with the sport mentioned in private diaries as early as 1709 and in the public press in 1751. In fact, it is believed that George Washington himself watched some of his soldiers play “wickets”—which historians believe referred to cricket—in Valley Forge during the summer of 1778.
Despite such early roots, the shorter and faster-paced game of baseball eventually surpassed cricket in America, and the so-called “sport of kings” was reduced to little more than a niche interest for the elite. Cricket may yet make a comeback, however, thanks to the United States’ growing population of immigrants from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and parts of the Caribbean—areas where, along with England, South Africa and Australia, cricket is still very much a popular sport. Throughout the United States, cricket clubs are popping up in big cities, on college campuses
My own long distance love affair with cricket dates to 2007. As a long-time Brit-o-phile, I have always been drawn to all things British. My favorite television program: Last of the Summer Wine. My favorite composers: Ralph Vaughan Williams, Thomas Tallis and Hamilton Harty. Movies, reading materials, dress, beer; my tastes in each of these areas has been heavily influenced by the British. I even listen to BBC Radio online and have for years.
When I was younger, baseball was my game. I had been a fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs before mostly losing interest in recent years. I had, in fact, lost interest in nearly all competitive sports. I had, however, always wanted to find out more about this strange-sounding game of cricket, and so in 2007 while browsing through the BBC News Web site I came across mention of the World Cup taking place in the West Indies. Although I couldn’t access the BBC online coverage, I looked around and found audio commentary being provided via www.cricketworld.com and began tuning in while at work.
I had no idea what was going on at first—why was someone bowling to a batsman, what was a sweep and a cut shot and why were there two batsmen changing ends all the time? Despite my lack of knowledge, though, as I listened to that World Cup I was enchanted and well and truly captured by this marvelous game. I came to understand some of the rudiments of the game, was able to follow along using some graphics of what a cricket pitch looks like and read up on some of the rules and history. I also managed to win an England ODI shirt—which I continue to wear quite often (much to my wife’s dismay), despite the fact that it now looks like something I took off of a dead bum in an alley.
My burgeoning enthusiasm wasn’t even hampered by England’s second round departure from the tournament—as mentioned above I’m long-time Chicago Cubs fan so I’m used to losing. (It’s a good thing, as England headed down a road that led to disappointment, defeat and major changes in the squad.)