Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
– Margaret Mead
Cricket. It gets in your blood. It gets under your skin. It sinks its teeth in you and doesn’t let go. It becomes a part of you. You fall in love it with every morning when you wake up, and you stand in slack jawed wonder at it every day as it finds a new way to thrill you.
Cricket. It’s your food, your drink, your lover, your brother in arms.
– Manas Sahu of the Massachusetts State Cricket League, who has served as hisleague’s president for three consecutive terms, leading his league – a nonprofit organization of players, members and volunteers – with a simple mission in mind: to grow the game he loves;
– Shahid Ahmed of the Michigan Cricket Association, who fell in love with cricket whilegrowing up on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan, moved to the United States in 1990, formed the MCA in 2001 and grew it from six teams to 40 teams in just ten years;
– Avinash Varma of the Washington Metro Cricket Board, who has guided his organization since 2010 – an organization that boasts over 300 cricketers throughout the Washington DC area;
– Lesly Lowe of the Commonwealth Cricket League, who has played cricket in America since he was 13, and grew the CCL from just two teams in 2001 – his team and his dad’s team – into the largest cricket association in the United States;
– Leighton Greenidge of the Southern Connecticut Cricket Association, whose league was one of the first associations in the country to implement a self-umpiring system, fostering a respect for game as well as its laws;
– Rod Gohil of the Arizona Cricket Association, who moved to the United States from India when he was only ten years old and founded his association – that he calls his family – in 2003 and which features one of the most picturesque grounds and well kept wickets in America.
But these six people share more in common than just their passion for the sport of cricket.
They also all understand that this great game does not belong to them. It belongs to their
children, and their children’s children, and as such it is their responsibility to treat the
game with the respect it deserves, to shepherd it safely into the future and to protect it
against forces that look to use it for their own selfish gains.
“Cricket runs in our blood; and we just want to see it thrive,” is how Ahmed eloquently puts it.
And because of this love for the game, and their respect for its legacy, these six leaders stood up to the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) and said: “No more. We don’t like how you are treating us, but more than that: we don’t like how you are treating this game that we have played and cherished our entire lives.”
It was a decision that was uniquely American, both in its action and its motivation.
In action, for this country was founded by a similar group of brave, like-minded people who shared a passion for liberty, saw injustice and banded together to make it better not just for themselves, but for everyone, for centuries to come.
In motivation, for Sahu, Ahmed, Varma, Lowe, Greenidge and Gohil’s decision was a
response to USACA violating that most hallowed of all American rights: the right to vote.
In 2012, when USACA denied certain associations a voice in league elections, that was the
end. “They had hired a lawyer – that they paid for with our member dues – to figure out a
way to keep us from voting,” Sahu reflects.
“They knew we weren’t going to vote for continued corruption and fraud, so they took our vote away from us. That’s how we saw it,” added Ahmed.
That was the moment when this small band of like minded people stood up for cricket, for cricket’s future, and for their right to be involved in how the game is run in their country – a right that they had earned by spending decades growing the game with no assistance from the association now denying them a voice.
And so, out of a mutual love of cricket and justice, the American Cricket Federation was
born. A federation that was American not just in how it was formed, but also in how it
was governed. “ACF is democratic and open,“ describes Varma. “USACA is autocratic and
opaque.” And Lowe remembers, “Nothing could have stopped us from breaking away from USACA because we knew we were doing the right thing.”
It was the right thing to do for cricket in America, but the right thing is not always the
The easy route would have been to be quiet, play politics and just let USACA run roughshod over the game in America. But that is not the route that these trailblazers chose. They chose the route that left them open to threats, once bribery had failed to turn their heads. All for the love of the game, and for the love of their associations, which they have nurtured since their inception.
Gohil was approached by representatives from USACA who asked him to rejoin, but the
offer was immediately rejected. “I was told I could be a member of USACA as well as ACF,” he recalls. “However I saw no reason for such a thing, as USACA has never offered anything of value to improve and grow cricket in Arizona or anywhere else.”
Lowe experienced an attack directly on the youth in his organization – the future of cricket in America. “There are about 400 cricketers in our league below the age of 22,” Lowe said. “And about 150 under 19 years old. We knew that if we joined ACF our players would be blacklisted and that is exactly what happened.” But he soldiered on, and his membership followed him, despite the risks, knowing ultimately that Lowe only had the best in mind for his organization and the young cricketers it was fostering.
And like many organizations, Varma’s was blatantly lied about. “Long after WMCB officially parted ways with USACA, USACA continued to claim that WMCB was part of USACA in order to boost its membership claims.”
But all the leaders stuck to their guns, and are already reaping the benefits of their bravery, foresight and leadership, for the league and its members are thriving.
A national domestic league started in 2014 – with a championship tournament to be held in October – is just the first of many such competitions to be held in the future. The federation is interested not in dollar signs or ODI status for the national team; it is interested in building the game in the schools and on the playgrounds, fostering its growth at the grassroots level. It is about infrastructure. It is about listening to its members, cooperating with them, facing challenges together and sharing common experiences despite different backgrounds. “The members place their personal interests aside and do what is best for the game,” says Sahu.
In other words: it is an American Cricket Federation.
These six people do not credit themselves for standing up to USACA and founding the ACF.
They give credit to the game, to the support of their league members. But it is about them in this case. They saw an injustice and they took a stand.
“In the end,” says Sahu, “it was a simple decision.”
A simple decision that took bravery, and that will grow the game and ensure that is
protected for generations of Americans to come.
Says Lowe: “I envision the day when cricketers from around the world will want to take
advantage of the cricketing opportunities in the US much as is the case now where baseball continues to attract the Central, South American and even the Japanese players. I believe that there will be a time when cricket in the US will change the game on the global stage and possibly rival the ICC.
“The current leadership of the ACF will contribute immensely to this vision, simply because they are so forward thinking. With proper funding, the world is the ACF’s cricket oyster,” says Lowe.
With leaders like Sahu, Ahmed, Varma, Lowe, Greenidge and Gohil at the helm of cricket in America, that is not a prediction, but a prophecy, and it is a promise of a new dawn and a bright future for cricket in America.