If you haven’t noticed, the third-biggest sporting event in the world has now been underway for nearly a week.

It’s true: A tournament that will be watched by an estimated 2.2 billion people in more than 200 countries exploded into life last Saturday and will for the next six weeks take its followers on the kind of emotional rollercoaster of national pride that only a truly global showpiece can manage.

So how can it be that you haven’t heard of this event that ranks behind only the soccer World Cup and the Summer Olympics in promoting international couch potato-ism? How come you haven’t been bombarded with promos and predictions and suffered terrifying dreams where you forgot to set the DVR?

Well, simply because it is the Cricket World Cup. And the United States, save for a handful of pockets of ex-pat activity dotted around the country, doesn’t do cricket.

That should be no surprise, of course. The United States has no professional cricket structure. Most Americans think it is a chirpy insect rather than a sport played with bat and ball. The U.S. national team, comprising enthusiastic but under-funded amateurs, is in the fourth tier of international competition, as near to elite level as a junior varsity high school football player is to the NFL.

And, of course, America has no cricket history to speak of, compared to the rich heritage enjoyed by its traditional sports and pastimes.

Or does it?


The year 1844 was a somewhat quiet one in American history. Samuel Morse sent his first message on the telegraphic line between Washington and Baltimore, while James K. Polk laid the smack down on Henry Clay and earned himself a place in the White House. The Mexican War was still two years off, the debate on slavery more than a decade away from hitting full flow, and the industrial revolution was lining the pockets of a growing elite set of society.

In New York and Philadelphia, the social climbers and moneyed class found cricket, with its ties to Mother England and its principles of gentlemanly etiquette, rather appealing. Wealthy benefactors pumped money into several cricket clubs which, in essence, were the early predecessors of modern country clubs -- sporting lavish premises, smartly-dressed members, and a wide range of athletic activities.

Yet the sport was played by ordinary folk too, and had been for more than a century previously. Newspaper reports in Georgia dating back to 1737 told of social cricket matches, while workers in New York and Maryland played games with varying degrees of structure and organization.

By 1844, there was enough interest for a collection of the finest cricketers in the United States to invite a team of Canadians, mainly from the Toronto Cricket Club, to travel to New York for an official match. The American team included players from Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, and the venue was the St. George’s Club in Bloomingdale Park, where the NYU Medical Center now stands at 31st and First.

The real significance of the events of Sept. 25-27 (yes, games can last for three, or even up to five days -– although World Cup matches last only one day) is that it has gone down as the first ever international cricket match, which the visiting Canadians won by a tight margin of 22 runs.

This wasn’t just an exhibition for the benefit of friends and family either. It was serious business. A crowd of more than 20,000 showed up and bets of $120,000 -- an astronomical sum in those days -- were wagered.

Those heady days would not last long, though. Although cricket continued to be played, the Civil War prompted a period of anti-English feeling and the game suffered. Baseball, previously a sport played mainly by students and children, surged in popularity and quickly transformed into the national pastime.

Although some English cricket teams visited on various tours and some American sides traveled in the opposite direction, interest never reached such heights again. As international competition became structured in the 20th century, the United States was not seen as strong enough for admission as a top level or "Test" nation, with the game establishing its power base in Britain’s colonies such as Australia, New Zealand and, later, India.

Fast forward to the present day and there is not much going on with American cricket. It was hoped that the United States Cricket Association’s hiring of ambitious CEO Don Lockerbie would spark sponsorship interest and a multi-million dollar stadium in Broward County, Fla., opened in 2007.

However, Lockerbie left the position late last year, his blueprint of hosting regular contests (in the shortened, three-hour version of cricket known as Twenty20) between elite nations on American soil still largely unrealized.

Quite simply, the U.S. just isn’t a great place to be if you’re a cricket fan. To find coverage of the Cricket World Cup, the options are limited to an expensive television pay-per-view package or a slightly cheaper internet option.

The tournament goes on without the world’s biggest media market casting a glance in its direction, but given the level of interest elsewhere, it doesn’t seem to be hurting too much for the snub.

While the early matches of the event have been somewhat one-sided, viewing figures are higher than ever. Yet even with just 14 teams, the disparity between the haves and have-nots is huge. Bangladesh, Canada, Kenya and Zimbabwe were all thrashed in the opening week, and the USA is light years away from even the level of those minnows.

Just like how the state of the game in this country is light years away from that far-flung time when it carried relevance in society, before becoming America’s forgotten sport.