Canada, U.S. prepare to renew historic rivalry — in cricket (Montreal Gazette)

By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News
It was the world’s first documented nation-versus-nation sporting event, a September 1844 contest in New York City between Canada and the United States. No, not baseball. Not hockey. Cricket. That’s right — flat bat, wickets and whites.
Now, 167 years after the landmark match that blazed a trail for soccer’s World Cup and the Olympics — including Sidney Crosby’s gold-medal moment against the U.S. at last year’s Winter Games in Vancouver — the two countries that made sports history at Manhattan’s long-disappeared Bloomingdale Park are poised to revive their cricketing rivalry in a head-to-head series this spring.

(And, by the way, Team U.S.A.: Canada won the Victorian-era game, too, and didn’t require overtime to do it.)

This year’s event is being promoted as a kind of 21st-century sequel to the 1844 showdown by the organizers of a U.S. college tournament to be held this March in Florida.

“Starting in 2011, this oldest international sports rivalry will begin again,” the event’s organizer, American College Cricket, stated in a weekend announcement. “The best players at the 2011 American College Cricket Spring Break Championship will be selected for an All-America Team, and an All-Canada team. They will then play a series, best two out of three.”

Though not an official contest between the country’s respective national teams, the planned battle between Canadian and American all-stars is drawing on an unexpectedly rich history of cross-border cricket competition in North America.

The 1844 game, billed at the time as a tilt between the U.S. and the “British Empire’s Canadian Province,” was attended by at least 5,000 spectators and prompted a flurry of wagers. The Canadian team won the two-day contest 144 to 122, with a player named David Winckworth leading the way for the visitors from the north.

The contest was, in effect, a rematch to a game played a year earlier in Toronto between a cricket club from that city and the visiting St. George’s Cricket Club from New York.

But when players were picked up from other cities in each country for the 1844 meeting, the Toronto-New York club contest was transformed into a full-blown Canada-U.S. battle — a match now viewed as the first truly international sporting event.

“It’s such a big thing for the history of our country, but not too many people in Canada know about it,” Ravin Moorthy, vice-president of Cricket Canada, told Postmedia News on Monday.

Calgary-based Moorthy, a member of American College Cricket’s advisory board, said the sport is enjoying growing popularity among post-secondary institutions throughout North America, driven by students with South Asian roots.

While student cricketers in Canada and the U.S. are still searching for full competitive varsity status for their sport, the game is gaining strength thanks to demographic shifts in both countries, says Moorthy.

“If you look at our country,” he says, “we count about 12 or 13 million people from countries where cricket is a top two or three sport.”

Canada, which has qualified to compete in the Cricket World Cup next month in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, is ahead of the U.S. in national development of the sport, noted Moorthy.

But any game between Canada and the U.S. — as with hockey or any other sport — is a passionate affair among the countries’ cricketers, he said.

“Whenever we get together to play against the U.S., it’s an event in itself,” said Moorthy. “There’s a lot of pressure for us to beat them. And there’s a lot of pressure for them to beat us.”

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