David Owen

I still remember the day I first knocked on the door of the Evanston and Skokie Cricket and Dominoes Club.

It was at 7358 North Clark in a slightly scuzzy part of Chicago’s north side. I had recently moved to the city and was looking for a cricket team for the summer. It was late.

As the door swung open, the thunderous bass of roots reggae (or worse) assailed the senses and my friends, I am convinced, prepared to pull off in their Oldsmobile and leave me to my fate.


The speaker was a shorter-than-average, middle-aged West Indian man sporting an Alcan baseball cap.

In my defence, the music was pretty loud and I was not entirely sure I had heard him correctly.

As the seconds ticked by, I stood there awkwardly, no doubt pouting like a guppy, unsure what to say, or even if a response was appropriate.

Was this an entry code to keep out the uninitiated? As a keen student of lower league Scottish football, it even crossed my mind to raise his “Montrose” with my “Hamilton Academicals” or “Alloa Athletic”. But no, that couldn’t be right.

After what seemed like an eternity, he put me out of my misery.

“Montrose. My name is Montrose,” he said. He re-presented his proffered hand, which I had failed to register until that point.

From then on, I am happy to report, things between me and the Evanston and Skokie Cricket and Dominoes Club started to look up, and I turned out regularly for them for a season and a half, or thereabouts.

Truth to tell, this largely Jamaican team, complemented by an all-rounder from Belize and a wrist-spinner from Trinidad, was a little bit too good for me and I was never exactly a star performer – even if my story (and I am sticking to it) is that the coarse Midwestern grass meant that offside shots which would have rifled into the boundary boards at Hambledon or the Gabba were lucky to get you a single.

Twenty20 cricket could feature at future editions of the Olympic Games ©Getty Images
Twenty20 cricket could feature at future editions of the Olympic Games ©Getty Images

I did, though, have an occasional supplementary role as a driver on away trips that might be as far afield as St Louis, 293 miles away.

For some reason, my team-mates appeared to think we were less likely to be pulled over if the only nice English boy that they had immediately to hand drove the minibus.

Why am I telling you this?

To counter any suggestion, with the notion of cricket’s return to the Olympics once again on the agenda, that the United States is not a cricket country.

Clearly it is not a cricket country in the way it is a baseball country or even, nowadays, a soccer country.

But in the afternoons when we set up shop in Washington Park, ours would rarely be the only cricket match going on, even if one of the hazards at the Northwestern University grounds where we played many home games came from ultimate Frisbee players encroaching on the outfield.

What was true, based on my own experience there in the 1980s, is that not many Americans felt moved to get involved, at least with our league, the Mid-West Cricket Conference.

I played regularly against expatriates from the Caribbean islands, the Indian sub-continent, even Australia, but rarely a native-born US citizen.

That perhaps is the bridge the Olympics could help cross, assuming things have not already changed.

I found a not dissimilar picture a few years later in France, country of the other surviving 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games bidder, where I have also played and watched cricket of an OK standard.

This was in Strasbourg against a team from the Sri Lankan community there at a ground where storks could frequently be seen flying beyond the boundary.

On another occasion, I remember being offered a full-on choucroute garnie in the tea interval – a far cry from the crust-less cucumber sandwiches of my youth. 

While the side I was with included a number of promising French teenagers, it was captained by Lancashire-born Simon Hewitt, and I got the impression, perhaps wrongly, that things might tail off if he ever departed.

Nita Ambani, who owns the Mumbai Indians Twenty20 side, has been an IOC member  since 2016 ©Getty Images
Nita Ambani, who owns the Mumbai Indians Twenty20 side, has been an IOC member since 2016 ©Getty Images

That said, my copy of Les Lois [Laws] du Cricket, dating from 1998, makes allusion to 37 clubs and 800 players, so perhaps the sport was already better bedded-down there than I give it credit for.

And Paris has already, of course, staged an Olympic cricket final, on 19 and 20 August 1900, even if the match was played in a velodrome. France is, indeed, the reigning men’s Olympic cricket silver medallist.

The United States, for its part, in September 1844, hosted the very first international cricket match – between the USA and Canada in New York.

So, don’t be fooled: both potential 2024 Olympic host-countries, while not in the front rank of current cricket-playing nations, can point to a far from negligible heritage in the sport.

I also do not really buy the notion that, for all the present talk, cricket has little chance of making it onto the programme for these 2024 Games, and possibly not for 2028.

Yes, perhaps Paris and Los Angeles would both have other priorities when it comes to suggesting new sports to add to the programme.

But think back to what happened with Tokyo 2020.

Although the whole process was pretty carefully choreographed, I got the distinct impression that, while the driving force behind inclusion of two of the sports that have been added – karate and baseball/softball – was Japan, the main source of momentum behind the other three – sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing - was the International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself.

Now the IOC has as much reason to be keen on cricket as on that trio of youth pursuits: it is quite simply the key to unlocking the Indian sub-continent and perhaps paving the way in time for an Olympic Games to be hosted by the world’s second-most populous country.

What is more, as of last year, Nita Ambani, owner of the Mumbai Indians cricket team, has been an IOC member.

So, if the International Cricket Council (ICC) truly has decided that the moment is right, I can really see no reason why an Olympic Twenty20 tournament should not take place in 2024, whether at the Vélodrome de Vincennes, Dodger Stadium or anywhere else.

Notwithstanding the surprisingly widespread grass-roots presence that I and thousands of others have benefited from over the years, it could be a big fillip for the sport’s global development. 

My only worry would be that it does not hasten the demise of the West Indies, every bit as cherished a supranational sporting institution as the British and Irish Lions rugby union team or the IOC itself.