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Before 2009 though, cricket for Harrison only registered as the perennially creaking night insect. That is till he encountered a very ancient version of it on a field trip with his wards to Virginia. It was nothing more than a re-enactment of a cricket match played during colonial rule in America, where bowlers bowled under-arm. But it left an impact on Harrison.
“I always thought cricket was a pastoral and sedentary game played on a large field. But what I saw was really enthralling. I was inspired to find out how the sport was being played these days, and my first tryst with modern-day cricket was the IPL,” he says. “And it shocked my senses to realize how the game had moved on.”
From then on, Harrison’s thirst for cricketing knowledge became insatiable, and before long he’d started the first-ever high school team in Maryland. By 2010, he set up the United States Youth Cricket Association (USYCA) to get more American kids playing cricket.
Going back to his initial rendezvous with cricket — or, as he likes to call it, the day he was touched by the cricketing Gods — Harrison recalls how the multitude of fielding positions left him very confused. “In baseball, we have only nine fielding positions and we have the same guys stand there each time. But the complexities involved with how and when someone stands in the slips is fascinating.”
But Harrison is quick to add that the laws of baseball are even more baffling. “Exclude the LBW law, and I think cricket is the easiest sport to pick up even for a novice,” he says.
Harrison’s belief about cricket being ‘easy to pick up’ has influenced his way of selling the sport to his wards. “The USYCA mainly targets really young kids. I tell them, ‘How would you want to play a style of baseball where there are no foul areas, you can hit a home run and get six runs for it, and also hit as many as you want till you are out, and hit the ball and decide whether you want to run or not?’And that is what excites the kids the most.”
The most common issues he faces while introducing the sport also come from a baseball hangover. Most kids, he says, drop their bat when they begin to run and instinctively touch the base of the wicket after completing the run like in baseball, resulting in stumps being knocked down regularly.
The kids are originally only taught about the batting aspect of the game and are exposed to soft balls, which are bowled to them underarm. Enjoying the game was imperative. But adult Americans continue to remain resistant, hindering the sport’s development for over two decades now.
“Unfortunately, most people with knowledge of cricket in the US want to train kids who are already aware of the sport, which invariably means that only expats play it at the highest level,” he says. The USYCA will thus have to play a huge role in its rise.
For Harrison, Test cricket remains beyond his tolerance levels. “For Americans, sport is all about action. I cannot imagine people sitting throughout the day taking joy in watching 400 dot balls,” he groans good-naturedly.