180 years on, US v. Canada get ready to rumble

In 1844, these two sides met in the first international fixture. In a vastly different setting, these two sides meet to kick-start the ninth edition of the World Cup.
180 years after the first-ever international between the USA and Canada, the two nations will face each other in the first fixture of the T20 World Cup.
180 years after the first-ever international between the USA and Canada, the two nations will face each other in the first fixture of the T20 World Cup. USA Cricket/Twitter

CHENNAI: The year was 1844. A famous French artist, Georges Seurat, was busy creating a painting, which would later be declared one of his masterpieces, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”. Not so far away from France, in Vienna, Austria, the Waltz King of classical music, Johann Strauss II, was busy composing "Poems of the Senses or Epigrams". In India, the sentiments against their rulers were boiling below the surface, which ultimately led to a revolt a decade later.

However, mainland America was away from all of this. The USA was getting ready to vote in their 15th Presidential election in November of 1844. A month before the country could vote for Democrat James K. Polk as the 11th President, other history was in the making on the cricket fields in New York. That is when the United States of America faced the British Empire's Canadian Province in the world's first international cricket match in the Big Apple, almost 33 years before the long-standing Ashes rivalry between England and Australia could ignite.

It was a time when, cricket, the sport brought to North America by British colonisers in the 1700s, was gaining traction. Philadelphia, the largest city in Pennsylvania, was the epicentre of the cricketing action. While the match was scheduled to happen in the Fall of 1844, this match could have easily been played four years earlier when St George's Cricket Club of New York received an invitation from one Mr Phillpotts to play a game against Toronto in Canada. The 18 cricket enthusiasts from New York actually carried out a strenuous journey only to realise they were duped and their opposition had no idea about this arrangement. However, the spirit of cricket prevailed as Toronto's side did field a team to face the visitors. The then Manhattan-based club won the fixture without losing a wicket.

Four years after this fixture, the American side extended the invitation from their side and invited the Canadians to face the hosts in a game at the grounds of the St George's Cricket Club in New York on September 24 and 25, 1844. According to records, the trip down south was hard for the Canadian players as the travelling networks were not that developed. When it came to the match day, American players from clubs in Washington DC, Boston, and New York City – as well as Philadelphia – were part of the American team. Both teams contributed with umpires as Canada's John Conolly joined USA's Harry Russell and Robert Waller.

On September 26, it is believed that the game was scheduled to begin at 10 am local time but for some reason, it did not start at the prescribed time. USA won the toss and elected to field first and Canada were bowled out for 88. Samuel Wright Sr, the groundskeeper of the St George's Cricket Club, took five wickets for the USA. In reply, the hosts could not do much and ended their day with 61 runs on the board and only one wicket in hand. Rain prevented any play on day two (September 27) and there was no other option but to extend the match to day three.

Canada took that one wicket by giving away two runs as the USA were bowled out for 63, giving their opponents a tiny lead. Wright once again came to the rescue in the second innings as he added four more wickets to his tally and Canada were bowled out for 83. With 82 runs required to create history, US folded against George Sharpe, who took six wickets to help Canada win by 23 runs. It is estimated that overall 20,000 spectators were in attendance at the first-ever international fixture between the neighbouring countries.

Betting, as was the norm of the time, was a large part of this fixture. It is estimated that almost US$1,00,000 was bet on the fixture (close to US$4.18 mn USD in today's value when adjusted for inflation). This much betting happened for the match, with the prize money a mere US$1000 (around US$41,000 today).

Cricket enjoyed immense popularity in the country till the 1860s. Once the American Civil War between the United States and the Confederate States of America started, cricket got lost. Meanwhile, sports like Basketball, Baseball and American Football found traction and this English game lost its shine. Now, after almost 180 years since the first international, it feels poetic that the USA and Canada are scheduled to face each other in the first fixture of the T20 World Cup on Saturday night. In the tournament that will see 20 teams fight for the ultimate glory, the only hope for cricket enthusiasts is that after this event, unlike 1844, cricket fandom in the USA catches fire and grows more and more.

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