The rest of the planet will slow down beginning this week, with the start of the World Cup. Productivity in American workplaces, however, should stay about the same as it ever was. But soccer isn’t the only game that billions and billions of folks get and we don’t. There’s also cricket.
Even the sort of American sports fan who can quote Derek Jeter’s on-base percentage in away games and explain the mike man’s role in the Skins’ Cover 2 defense had to Google “googly” to understand what the heck befuddled President George W. Bush in his first turn as a batsman during a March cricket exhibition in Pakistan. (According to the online Cricket Dictionary, a googly is “[a] pitch which is thrown with baseball’s ‘screwball’ grip but reverse finger spin to look like a leg-break that should move across and away from the batter, but actually moves in the opposite direction, i.e. into the batter like an off-break, after it bounces.” Got it?)
The man charged with making the game commonplace in this land of plenty lives in our midst: Gladstone Dainty of Hyattsville is the David Stern, the Pete Rozelle, the Kenesaw Mountain Landis, even, of American cricket.
But to pay the bills, he’s an accountant.
“Yes, I’m anonymous here,” says Dainty, president of the U.S.A. Cricket Association, the game’s preeminent sanctioning body in this country. “But my job isn’t self-promotion. My job is to make cricket grow here.”
Dainty, a Guyana native who came to D.C. as a teenager in 1973, worked his way to the top of the federation after years of managing local clubs in this area and regional leagues. He was appointed president of the USACA (pronounced you-sock-a) board in June 2003. And while he’s been in office, a few baby steps toward stateside cricket respectability have been taken. The United States under-19 team qualified for the World Cup by winning a Pan-American tournament in Toronto. American Pro Cricket, a professional league using veterans of international teams, was launched quietly in 2004. How quietly? Well, a franchise played for a season at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie. Raise your hand if you knew about it.
And in the D.C. area, cricket appears to be flourishing, with 42 teams playing in two large, well-organized amateur federations: the Washington Cricket League and the Washington Metropolitan Cricket Board.
But a lot of administrative googlies have been bowled at him, too—most of them from the global cricket powers. In 2004, the International Cricket Council conceived of something called Project USA, a cooperative plan between the Dubai-based ICC and USACA to stage international matches—including some in the 2007 World Cup—in the United States and use those events to raise funds for USACA and awareness of cricket here.
But in March 2005, with the scheme still in its planning stages, the ICC announced it was suspending all funding of Project USA and put most of the blame on Dainty. In a letter to Dainty that was handed out to the cricket media, ICC officials told the USACA head that they didn’t like how he selected the U.S. national team or much else about his management style, saying they had observed “a complete absence of leadership and a sense of direction within USACA.” At the time, two of the biggest cricket leagues in the country, in New York and Chicago, were complaining to the international body about USACA’s accounting policies and alleged cronyism.
The ICC then booted the U.S. team out of the 2005 Intercontinental Cup, a global tourney for second-tier cricketing nations, citing USACA’s alleged mismanagement. The ICC’s criticisms led to infighting at USACA and attempts by Dainty’s underlings to replace him. Natch, a rival group, called Major League Cricket, was founded in Brooklyn and last year petitioned the ICC to replace USACA as this country’s sanctioning body.
The long-running ICC/USACA brouhaha, like most cricket happenings, was considered newsworthy in almost every country but the one in which Dainty lives.
“I heard from all over the world that people were reading stories about me,” he says with a laugh. “But I didn’t have time to pay attention to that. I have my job to do and a family to feed.”
But Dainty, using technicalities in USACA bylaws and litigation, quashed the rebellions. Major League Cricket’s petition was denied. And in March, the ICC voted to once again formally recognize USACA, subject to a new round of elections for officers this fall.
“That was an attempt by the ICC to colonialize cricket,” says Dainty of the feud. “They wanted to come here and raise money and control that money. I had problems with that, and the situation just deteriorated from there. I don’t want to say that I came out ahead, but I’m a big Kipling fan, and Kipling wrote that you’ve got to ‘keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.’ It’s a very critical part in the history of cricket in the United States right now, and I see myself, after what these guys tried to do to me, as a sacrificial lamb. It was about power. I know that cricket doesn’t need me. But I need cricket, and so I’ll do the best I can to serve it. And the whole time, I was thinking, ‘OK, when this is over, we can take this sport to the Americans.’”
With his sanctioning body again recognized, Dainty traveled to New York last weekend to try to finalize arrangements for a series of U.S. matches between the West Indies and India in the fall. If the series comes off, that would be quite a coup for USACA—and Dainty. Though the Indians haven’t fared well in recent international competitions, the national team remains among the most popular athletic squads on the planet in any sport in no small part because the home audience is more than a billion people, nearly all of them as into cricket as Americans are not. Nike paid about $40 million to sponsor the Indian national team. A telecom firm recently paid $140 million for rights to broadcast India’s international games for the next five years.
“They are like rock stars,” Dainty says. “America will see that, if they come here.”
The lack of suitable cricket ovals around D.C. means there’s no chance the Indian team, even if it makes the trip to the States, will play in this area, though Dainty thinks the team could make a stop at the White House. But the mere possibility that the squad could come to this country has much of the local cricket community giddy. Players with the Washington Cricket Club, a squad made up of Indians and Indian-Americans that plays in the Washington Cricket League, took a break from their match with a team of Jamaican expats at Wirt Middle School in Riverdale to gush about the chance to see their heroes.
“We’re all going to go,” says WCC captain Ravi Vellore. “Texas, Florida, wherever. We’re going to go.”—Dave McKenna