Batting for Brooklyn

Article excerpt

Cricket has travelled across the Atlantic changing its accent and manners in the Process.

"Americans play cricket?" On a July day chilled by the wind, fragments of blue sky threatening to breakthrough a blanket of cloud -- in short, a stereotypical day for English cricket. -- I sit in a stand in Castleford, better known as a bastion of Rugby League. An hour to the west, England are restoring some lost pride by thrashing Zimbabwe in a limited-overs encounter. In London, Yorkshire are defending northern pride in a top-of-the-table clash with Surrey. Arguably, however, the match of the day is being played before me and 30 other spectators. With three balls to spare, a 19-year-old batsman called Steve Massiah cracks a boundary to square leg and the US national side defeats an MCC Select XI by four wickets.

"Americans play cricket?"

All week long, friends, acquaintances and even strangers had been sounding the refrain. England might have gifted its national game to the empire, but the original colonists had corrupted the sport into baseball and a "World Series" encompassing the US, Toronto and Montreal. Cricket's gentlemen wear whites and shake hands; America's finest swagger, while their mouths chomp on gum or spit tobacco juice. I shook my head at the caricature, and then constructed my own: a squad of Ivy Leaguers, paying homage to aristocratic forebears and having a nice tour of the English countryside.

The rebuttal was in the scoreboard. "All-American" names such as Johnson and Denny were juxtaposed with Ali, Amin; Islam, Awan, Rizvi and De Silva. And my chastening was in the field. Imran Awan (Pakistan and Washington DC), who bears a passing resemblance to Wasim Akram, not only in physique, but also in pace, opened with Nasir Islam (Pakistan and Washington DC) to reduce the MCC to 13 for two after five overs. Mark Johnson (Jamaica and Miami) and Nezam Hafiz (Pakistan and New York) put on 60 for the first US wicket, while Massiah (Guyana and New York) batted more than two hours for his 71 not out.

Almost all of the American tourists are first-generation immigrants, men who came to the US in their teens. Inshan Ali moved from Trinidad to New York when he was 13. Nirosh De Silva joined his mother after she had spent more than a decade in San Francisco, and became a wine taster in the Napa Valley. Johnson left the Young Jamaica team for Brooklyn College and "soccer", before taking up cricket again at the age of 27. The dressing room and lunch table feature a melange of dialects and languages, overseen by the team manager, Kamran Khan (18 years with the US national side as a player), and the coach, Sew Shivnarine, a former international for the West Indies.

The end product defies classification. Only the most foolhardy after a day's observation would write off this squad, playing eight matches in two weeks, as American yokels. The US is in the International Cricket council's second tier of nations, alongside the likes of Scotland, Ireland, Holland and Denmark, which do not play Tests, but participate in international one-day competitions.

Next year's ICC Trophy is in Toronto; the American ambition is to be one of the qualifiers for the 2003 World Cup. They have a chance: Jim Love, ex-Yorkshire and England and now Scotland's coach, spied on them, undercover as Number 3 for the MCC, and assessed the competition with dour understatement as "pretty useful" after his dismissal for one. The previous day, the US -- despite a late-innings wobble -- had defeated Yorkshire's second eleven by one wicket.

Despite the nature of the personnel, this is not simply a "south Asian" or "West Indian" squad under a foreign flag. The "US" label is not only on the manager's blazer, but also in the mannerisms and traits that defy cricket's conventions. For the toss of the coin, the MCC captain is dressed in whites and a jumper with club colours; his counterpart is in a white windcheater and blue sweatpants. …