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American cricket in a freefall

cricket Updated: Mar 21, 2012 01:24 IST

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There was a moment back in 2004 when cricket fans in the United States could be forgiven for believing that the sport might one day rise above a curiosity at home.

The national team had reached the Champions Trophy and was playing alongside cricketing giants Australia and New Zealand after a historic victory over Zimbabwe.

Though they were beaten badly in the elite competition, the experience had the potential to be a turning point for the sport as much as the 1994 World Cup was for football.

Instead, the team began a free fall for which it has only started recovering.

The U.S. team is made up mostly of immigrants from South Asia and the Caribbean. It is now playing in lowly Division 4 alongside the likes of Malaysia and Tanzania. Its young and inexperience side hasn't fared much better at this month's World Twenty20 qualifying tournament, losing five of its six matches and ending any chance of appearing in the World Cup in Sri Lanka later this year.

"It has been a rollercoaster," said head coach Mark Johnson, who comes from Jamaica and was part of the Champions Trophy side.

"One of the reasons why it has been a roller coaster is because of our preparation in between tournaments," he said. "We have long layoffs. Cricket as we play it back in the States is an amateur sport. We are not truly prepared for these games in terms of level of competition. We are Sunday afternoon cricketers."

Efforts to promote the sport in the region have also been hurt by the failure of a proposed Twenty20 league in the Caribbean by Texas tycoon Allen Stanford, who was convicted of orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme that scammed investors out of $7 billion.

Much of the blame for the U.S. team's downfall has been directed at the United States of America Cricket Association, where poor governance and political infighting resulted in the association being suspended in 2005 and again in 2007 by the International Cricket Council. That team was scheduled to play in Division 3 in 2007 but, because of the suspension, it was relegated to Division 5 in 2008.