It’s well known that England’s Alfred Shaw bowled the first ever delivery in Test cricket to Australia’s Charles Bannerman at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on 15 March 1877. But contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the first international match that was played. In fact, the first international cricket match was played between two countries who you wouldn’t usually associate the sport with: United States of America (USA) and Canada.
The two neighbouring North American countries faced off in Manhattan, New York between September 24 and 26 in 1844. The visitors won the game, with USA failing to chase down a target of 82 in the fourth innings. In those days, chasing such a target wasn’t as easy as it is in modern times and the hosts were bundled out for 58.
With baseball, another bat-and-ball game, gaining huge popularity in the United States in the years that ensued, cricket fell way behind. While there was Philadelphia where cricket was still relevant, the sport lost its standing in most parts. It’s been 175 years since USA played their first international match, but there have hardly been any memorable moments at the top level since.
On the other hand, Canada have had their moments in the sport. They’ve played in four World Cups, participating in three successive editions between 2003 and ‘11. They also held temporary ODI status between 2006 and ‘14. In the late 1990s, Canada had hosted three big ODI series, involving arch-rivals India and Pakistan in Toronto. The Friendship Cup, as this series was called, was held between 1996 and ’98 and helped popularise the sport in the country, especially among the sizeable South Asian community living there.
Coming back to cricket in the USA, the Philadelphian cricket team were the most popular side towards the end of the 19th century. They possessed Bart King, a fine bowler who is considered by most as the greatest cricketer in US history. In 65 first-class matches, he took 415 wickets at an average of 15.7, making an impression in England on three separate tours during his career.
USA’s biggest cricketing moment in recent years came when they qualified for the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy. They got to the tournament after an incredibly close ICC Six Nations Challenge where five teams were level on points, with USA finishing top based on their superior net run-rate.
This was a big moment as they would make their ODI debut at long last. They were grouped with New Zealand and then world champions Australia, and caused little trouble to either team. While they were handed a 210-run hammering by the Kiwis, they were bowled out for just 65 before losing by 10 wickets against the Aussies. But the performances were not the most important aspect here. It was the fact that the United States had finally made their arrival on the global cricketing stage, 160 years after their international match against Canada.
Since the turn of the 20th century, the game has been hampered in the country by administrational issues. The United States of America Cricket Association (USACA), which governed the sport for decades, was expelled by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2017. USA Cricket was formed shortly after and took charge as the country’s governing body for the sport.
With the ICC granting T20I status to all its members, the United States played their first T20Is during a tour to the United Arab Emirates earlier this year. While the first game ended in a draw, the hosts would win the second encounter by 24 runs.
In recent years, cricket authorities have also attempted to propel the popularity of the sport in the States by hosting international matches as well as Caribbean Premier League (CPL) games in Lauderhill, Florida. In total, nine T20Is have been held in Lauderhill so far, starting with an encounter between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in 2010.
It’s also the venue for the first two T20Is in the ongoing series between the West Indies and India. This isn’t the first time the two teams have faced each other at this venue. In 2016, they had played in an epic T20I, which produced 489 runs before the Windies clinched a one-run victory.
In 2015, another attempt to popularise the sport in the US saw the light of day with Cricket All-Stars, an exhibition T20 tournament featuring retired superstars. Two teams, led by cricketing icons Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne, faced off in three matches – all of which were held at baseball stadiums.
It’s not going to be an easy task to break into a sporting market that is dominated by baseball, basketball and American football, but international matches will surely help in keeping South Asian cricket fanatics interested in the game for now. In the long term, a marquee T20 league is likely to be the way to go as cricket aims to make its mark in the United States.