Once a popular pastime in the USA, Cricket returns for T20 World Cup Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Say “silly mid-off” or “deep backward square leg” or “a single to long leg” to the average American and it’ll trigger a quizzical look.

Cricket — the so-called “gentlemen’s game” with complex rules, funnily worded fielding positions and matches that go on for five days — is hardly high up in the national consciousness of the United States, adding to the fascination of the Twenty20 World Cup the country is co-hosting with the Caribbean next month.

Yet it wasn’t always this way.

In the mid-19th century, cricket was regarded as something of a popular pastime in the United States.

Brought over by immigrants, it flourished in New York and Philadelphia in particular. Indeed, the first ever international cricket match — between the United States and Canada — was played in the Big Apple in 1844, and touring teams from England crossed the Atlantic to play.

By the time of the Civil War in the 1860s, baseball had become the dominant bat-and-ball game in the States and cricket was tailing off, becoming instead a sport that took a deeper hold in British colonies in Asia and the Caribbean.

“Baseball — at that time called ‘the lightning sport,’ though it became, for many, too stodgy and slow — could be played in two to three hours, which suited the hasty American temperament,” John Thorn, the official historian for Major League Baseball, told The Associated Press. “Cricket continued as the preferred sport of gentleman, but baseball became the democratic ideal.”

That cricket is making a comeback, of sorts, in the U.S. through its shortest format — in T20 — maybe makes sense.

Major League Cricket, a T20 competition, started up last year and now there’s a World Cup being staged as the International Cricket Council seeks to expand to a new market where, according to the sport’s global governing body, there are already 30 million cricket fans. It’s in the U.S. where cricket is making its return to the Olympic program for the Los Angeles Games in 2028.

“The commitment to grow cricket in the U.S. is real,” said Los Angeles organizing committee sports director Niccolo Campriani.

That could easily have been said 200 years ago, or maybe more.

According to USA Cricket, the first hard evidence of cricket being played in the U.S. came as early as 1709 when William Byrd, the owner of Westover Plantation in Virginia, wrote in his diary: “I rose about 6 o’clock and Colonel Ludwell, Nat Harrison, Mr. Edwards and myself played at cricket, and I won a bit.”

It is also noted by the governing body that Benjamin Franklin brought cricket’s official rule book — the 1744 Laws — back from England in 1754 and that there’s anecdotal evidence George Washington’s troops played what they called “wicket” in 1778, more than a decade before he became the first U.S. president.

Though anti-English sentiment hardened after the American Revolution in the late 18th century, cricket was still played in 22 states by up to a thousand clubs by the mid-1800s. A drop-off came during and after the Civil War, by which time baseball — a sport played in England earlier than in America, as documented by author David Block — took hold.

According to Thorn, there are “myriad assertions … but no hard evidence” that baseball descended from cricket or even rounders, another bat-and-ball game.

“The theory of lineal descent of games is a mistaken idea, in my view: rather than an evolutionary tree, the story more resembles a bramble bush,” he told the AP.

There is, however, undoubted crossover between baseball and cricket, not least in the language used in the two sports, such as “pinch-hitter” or “innings.”

Thorn said baseball has tended to follow trends established in cricket, citing overarm throwing, the imparting of spin on the ball and the potential future use of Hawkeye technology, which cricket has deployed since 2001.

On the other hand, cricket’s move five-day tests to shorter, limited-overs formats, such as Twenty20 and the Hundred in England, has seen it become a sport where sluggers can thrive in an all-out-attack environment.

The “home run” in baseball is akin to the “six” in cricket as batters attempt to smash the ball over the boundary rope and into the crowd.

Spectators at Nassau County in New York, Grand Prairie outside Dallas and Broward County in Florida are likely to appreciate those shots more than any other in the coming weeks.