What captured the imagination of many Americans, “glued” to the game of cricket, at the turn of the last century, was the grand manner in which it was played - full of spirit and competition.
George Washington, America’s first President, was an avid follower of cricket. So was his successor, John Adams. So also was Theodore Roosevelt.
Cricket was played in the American colonies as early as 1709. In 1859, President Abraham Lincoln attended an American cricket match between Chicago and Milwaukee. In 2004, the US won a tournament - the ICC Six-Nations Challenge - to determine the world's best second-level cricket team.
Sounds crazy? Incredible? And straight out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not? Or, maybe, quite in tune with the famous theme song of the game: of glorious impossibilities, possibilities, and tizzy uncertainty, or unpredictability?
Not really, because the fact remains, cricket was once a popular sport in the United States, with Philadelphia being the famed terra firma for every “flannelled fool”, as the inimitable George Bernard Shaw once said, of the willow game.
The question of cricket in the US was not quite related to numbers. It was allied to the spirit of excellence. Like the pure classical elegance of Sir Jack Hobbs - whose sublime artistry has survived more effectively than mere figures. Or, the brilliant symphony of Mozart.
Yes, this was cricket’s fascinating history in the US, a time long gone.
On the flipside, cricket in George W. Bush’s country today has remained obscure, which is why it is difficult to realise that the game was played as earnestly there as anywhere in the early 1900s. This also added “fuel” to the prospect of the US actually playing Test cricket on the cards.
What sustained and fostered the game in the US for most part were endowments made by wealthy amateurs in Boston, Baltimore and Virginia, a “British county”.
As well, cricket was as much loved in Canada. The Australian opener, Charles Bannerman, the first-batsman-ever to score a Test century in the first-ever Test match played in Melbourne, in March 1877, against England, was also credited to have posted the first “ton” for an overseas cricketer in Canada.
Canada, of course, has played in the World Cup - the globe’s premier cricket event - but without giving opponents a fright or good run for their money.
What truly distinguished Philadelphia cricket was an eye for innovation. For example, for18 years, beginning in 1896, Haverford College undertook five tours of England long before any English school, the cradle of cricket, had thought of a cricket trip abroad.
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