Cricket Greats Take New Swing at Wooing America

In 1833, a team of American collegemen took on Canada in what was the world\'s first international cricket match.

Published: 08th November 2015 09:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th November 2015 09:19 AM   |  A+A-

Sachin Tendulkar

Batting legend Sachin Tendulkar. |AFP

In 1833, a team of American collegemen took on Canada in what was the world's first international cricket match.

The fortunes of the Gentleman's Game in the States have declined ever since, with baseball - cricket's quicker, brasher, simpler and, crucially, non-colonial cousin - establishing itself as "America's Pastime".

Now two of the greatest players of their generation believe that the time is right to take cricket back to America.

Yesterday, (On Saturday,) Shane Warne, the former Australian leg-spinner, and Sachin Tendulkar, India's greatest batsman, led out two star-studded teams of retired international cricketers at New York's CitiField baseball stadium, home of the New York Mets, to play an exhibition match on an imported, temporary drop-in wicket.

It was very much beer, hotdogs and pop music in New York in November, rather than champagne, pork pies and the sound of leather on willow of an English summer. Warne had described the concept as "WWE [wrestling] meets baseball". But it kind of worked.

Many of those at the game yesterday were the "Netherland crowd" - expats who connect to their home through cricket, so called after the award-winning 2008 Joseph O'Neill novel about a Dutchman living in New York in the wake of the September 11 attacks who takes up cricket. But there were plenty of Americans there too.

Warne and Tendulkar believe that there is a market for cricket in the US and that one day fans will cheer on an American team at a cricket world cup -- they have never qualified and recently lost to Ireland, Hong Kong, Namibia and Papua New Guinea in a failed bid to make next year's Twenty 20 World Cup. The pair also say that cricket should be reintroduced as an Olympic sport to boost its global appeal.

The Cricket All-Stars, including greats such as Brian Lara, Kumar Sangakkara, Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram, Muttiah Muralitharan, Jacques Kallis and Courtney Walsh, will play again in Houston and Los Angeles next week and are contracted for 15 games over the next three years, with the hope that the franchise will continue.

"Soccer wasn't big. David Beckham came here and it started to grow - we're trying to do something similar with cricket," Warne, 46 said.

Tendulkar, 42, agrees, saying a big part of what they are trying to achieve in the US is to get young children interested in the sport. Asked at a press event in New York last week whether Americans would be able to understand all the quirks of cricketing etiquette, technicalities and its hundreds of laws, Warne replied: "We're trying to hit the stumps. They're trying to hit it out of the park. It's not that hard."

The Warne and Tendulkar enterprise is not the first attempt to revive cricket in the US. In 1932, Sir Donald Bradman, the Australian batsman, and a team of all-stars toured North America and played an exhibition match in New York. Bradman made a rare duck, but his trip to New York was notable for his meeting with Babe Ruth at a Yankees game, bringing together the two leading sportsmen of the era.

One of the striking things about the Cricket All-Stars is that there are only two Englishmen involved - Graeme Swann and Michael Vaughan. "Maybe we're the only two superstars in English cricket," Swann joked, before explaining how he thought attitudes to the shorter formats of the game had to change among the counties.

If Warne and Tendulkar have their way, England will soon also have to contend with Twenty 20 cricketing superstars from the New World.

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