Peter Della Penna
At the 2010 American College Cricket Spring Break Championship in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from March 17-21, 20 teams took part at an event created to give an opportunity for university club cricket teams to come together to play cricket where they wouldn't normally be able to. While the event and its organizers, Lloyd Jodah and Nino DiLoreto, promised much for their tournament, they delivered far less.
To be clear, there were some positives. More than 250 players from 20 colleges and universities took part in the event, including the tournament champion York University from Toronto and the University of the West Indies. In recent history, cricket in America is dominated by the West Indian and South Asian expat community. Of the approximately 230 players surveyed during the tournament that came from the 18 US college and universities at the event, 64 of them (28%) said they were US citizens, with 27 of them (12%) born in America. This included several players who had only picked up the game recently and were playing in leather ball matches for the first time. While these figures do not compare favorably with most other cricket playing nations around the world, it is an encouraging sign that cricket is being developed in some way in the USA because at the moment, the USA senior squad currently does not have a single player who was born in the USA. An additional 36 players (16%) said they have permanent resident status.
George Washington University deserves special praise as eight of their players are American-born while tournament runner-up York College from Queens, NY, was the only team in the tournament whose entire squad was made up of US citizens and permanent residents. Schools like University of Miami (Fla.) and College of Wooster from Ohio also demonstrated a commitment to reaching out to players who hadn't played before and bringing them into the game. Conversely, three teams showed up to the tournament without a single US citizen or permanent resident in their squads: Thunderbird School of Management, Auburn University and NYU-Poly. While such rules exist in amateur leagues in the UK and other countries limiting the number of overseas players per XI to one or two, there is still no rule in most amateur leagues in America enforcing a minimum of at least one US citizen to be in the playing XI and this tournament was no different.
The tournament made use of the only ICC approved venue in America at Central Broward Regional Park. Nine of the tournament's 41 matches were played on the turf wickets inside the stadium, including the semifinals and final. Another six matches were played on the turf wicket at Brian Piccolo Park giving teams an opportunity to play on a natural surface that is hard to come by in America.
However, the basic organizational aspects of the tournament were full of problems. After only five teams played in the inaugural event in 2009, the organizers claimed that they had unprecedented interest from all over the country and that the 2010 event would be expanded to 24 teams. However, only 19 teams signed up while the University of the West Indies and the USA U-19 World Cup squad were announced by Jodah as guest teams in the tournament. A day before the tournament started, teams found out that the USA U-19 team would not be coming to the tournament after all and many participants were not happy, especially the teams who were scheduled to play exhibition matches against the USA U-19 squad.
Tournament-appointed neutral scorers were few and far between at the event. On Thursday and Friday at the satellite fields at Central Broward Regional Park, one of the two fields did not have a neutral scorer for at least four of the six games played. A visit to Brian Piccolo Park on Saturday morning revealed no neutral scorers and according to most teams who played there during the week, almost all the matches on the three days that games were played there were done without a neutral scorer. The biggest dispute that resulted took place on the second day of play when Boston University played NYU-Poly. NYU-Poly needed 125 to win and did so by four wickets with two balls to spare. BU's players did not agree with the math done by NYU-Poly, who scored their own innings.
“The real issue here is that the entire integrity, everything about this tournament and what it's supposed to be about is just completely broken because you've got two teams keeping track of their own score and you can't take anything seriously,” said BU player Vidit Munshi, speaking immediately after the match on day two. “It's like a pickup hoops game pretty much.”
The standard of play itself was average at best. Most teams had three or four good players, with some of them being good enough to play for many of the US Region teams. However, the other seven or eight looked pathetic at times as misfields and dropped chances spread like disease through most matches. In the final, York College dropped no less than six chances, all of them straightforward. If a game was close, it would typically feature scores in the 120-130 range. If a team scored anything over 150 in the first innings, they generally won by a heavy margin. There was no such thing as a big chase, unless it was UWI passing the 187/3 posted by Montgomery College in an exhibition game.
The teams were very let down by the fact that they had all paid a $400 tournament entry fee, in addition to teams paying as much as $700 per player in personal expenses to come and play in the tournament, yet could not get neutral scorers for their games. Most teams played at least one or two games without a neutral scorer. According to a player from UMBC, they did not have a neutral scorer for any of their four group games while York University, who played all their group games at Brian Piccolo Park, did not have a scorer for three of their four group games. In a post tournament interview, Jodah claimed he was only aware of one instance in which a scorer was missing, even though he was at both grounds to witness all events every single day.
As far as I am aware, there was no set of rosters published by the tournament organizers and no verification done by the organizers to make sure the rosters were legitimate as they had said they would do. The tournament eligibility notice sent out to the teams stated that undergrads and graduate students must be currently enrolled on campus at their US university to be able to participate in the event. Alumni were also eligible to play as long as a freshman was also in the playing XI. However, nowhere could I find a documented list of what year each player was in at the tournament or if they were playing as an alumnus.
At a captain's dinner on the third night of the tournament, Jodah picked up a pink ball and passed it around to all the players, telling them that this pink ball is similar to the one being trialed for future use in day/night Test matches. He told them all that his tournament would be trialing the pink ball in the finals. Instead, the same white ball that had been used all tournament was used for the final, a ball which most players felt was substandard and generally went soft after anywhere from 5-10 overs.
A post-tournament survey was sent out by this journalist to a representative from all 20 teams. Twelve surveys were returned with responses sent in to a series of questions. Players from York University, York College, TSGM, Minnesota, USF, NYU-Poly, University of Maryland-Baltimore County and USC sent in surveys with four other respondents wishing to remain anonymous.
The players were generally impressed with the playing facilities and the competition between teams. Most teams also commended Lloyd Jodah and Vice President Nino DiLoreto on getting 20 teams together to play cricket in one place.
“Outstanding job by both Lloyd and Nino,” said USC vice-captain Tarun Sandhu. “Hats off to them for organizing and pulling off this tournament. True that there were some major concerns about the rules and the implementation of some of the rules, but that should in no way, deter the bigger picture.”
“I would say they are doing a great job,” said York University captain Mahjuj Jasim Sourav. “They just need to focus more on the smaller things than just about the bigger picture.”
Some players felt very let down with the nature of how the tournament was run, especially in regards to transparency and rules.
“I'm disappointed with the organizers as I feel that they could have done a better job of just handling the basics like providing good umpires, scorers and a regularly updated scoreboard,” said one anonymous player.
One of the most common frustrations of the players was that there were no scores or standings posted anywhere by the tournament organizers: at the grounds, at the team hotel, or on the tournament web site. The handful of fans that came by the ground during the week were also confused as to why the tournament web site had no schedules or scores.
“The organization and logistical execution of the tournament was extremely poor,” said another anonymous player. “There was a startling lack of scorekeepers, scoreboards, areas to see group standings and scores of completed matches. Also, I did not like the very inappropriate situation in which a player of a team was allowed to score a game between two teams in his same division.”
“After the first day, and even down to the last day, a lot of the teams were in the dark as to where they stood,” said Akeem Dodson of York College.
On the weekend, the Broward County Parks charge admission to get into the grounds. However, the players themselves apparently had to pay to get in to play in their own matches, which did not sit well with one anonymous player.
“The fact that the players had to pay to get in their own games shows the lack of organization and thinking by the event organizers,” said the player. “Even when Lloyd Jodah spoke with the ticket booth in person, he was not able to waive the entrance fee.”
In a scene reminiscent of the 2009 USACA National Championships in which the third place game was stopped once and then halted altogether so that a youth soccer match could be played, one player said that one of his team's matches was shortened to 17 overs so that a soccer team could use the field.
Practical thinking was also not always evident. According to Sourav, his team was saddled with a big ambulance bill when one of the organizers called for one after a player on his team sustained a thumb injury in a group game. They were the only Canadian squad at the American tournament and did not have US health insurance, which turned into a problem.
“One of our main fast bowler, Zubair Zia, got hit by the ball and his left thumb joint got dislocated,” said Sourav. “It was put back in its position, but he was bleeding. The organizers called for an ambulance, where he could have been driven to the hospital by anyone. We had no idea how much ambulance costs and was hoping Canadian Health insurance would cover it, which did not happen. We were later told about the insane amount that will be charged to us, which could have been easily avoided, if someone just drove him to the hospital.”
Several matches were delayed at the start of the day's play on multiple days because there was not adequate transportation to get the teams to the ground. There was one shuttle bus from the hotel responsible for getting all the teams to the ground. After one day of putting up with this, several teams opted to get rental cars so they could get to where they needed to be on time.
The semifinals and finals were webcast live on the tournament web site. A multi-camera television production crew was brought in to manage the coverage as well as two commentators from New York. This was a flashy innovation that the organizers patted themselves on the back for over and over. By all accounts, it wasn't a bad stream and the picture quality was very good. But instead of spending money on things like getting meals delivered to the ground for all the teams during the week, having neutral scorers at every match, adequate transportation to the ground for the teams, having any type of visible scoreboard at the matches, maintaining rosters and posting scorecards on the tournament web site, the organizers neglected all of these things and instead went the route of hype. Jodah and DiLoreto tried to make the tournament run before it could even walk. However, it backfired when the stadium lights were shut off at the final while it was still in progress and this was beamed to anyone who was watching online. It would not have happened had the organizers made the umpires enforce the same 80 minute innings rule as they had done all week. The final started at 5:15 pm. The stadium lights were shut down at 8:30 pm after the 19th over in the second innings. If the umpires had held strictly to the rules that had been in place all tournament, the match would have ended by 8:15 pm and York University could have celebrated on the field.
While the event was hyped for close to a year by American College Cricket President Jodah as a can't miss, only about 80 people showed up to the tournament final in a stadium which has a capacity of over 20,000. The majority of those 80 fans were players from teams who were previously eliminated. It was clear that no local promotion had been done for the event, even though a press release was made announcing that the tournament was endorsed by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, comparing the college cricket tournament to, among other things, the Super Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament and the NBA Finals.
Despite all the problems, all but one player from the 12 who responded with surveys said they would come back next year.
“Yes, we would come back,” said Sandhu. “But we'll make sure we read the rule book properly and double check the rules before the tournament.”
The one player who did not think he would want to return blamed it on the organizers.
“The only reason I would return to play next year would be the experience of being on vacation in Florida with friends on the team,” said the anonymous player. “If the tournament is conducted next year in the same manner as this year's, I would not be interested in returning to play.”