There were 22 uniform-clad women who had earlier enjoyed breakfast together, rode a mini-bus, posed for team pictures, laughed together, exchanged high-fives and family stories, some got reacquainted, held group team prayer sessions while huddled together, with only a handful really knowing what to expect next; as two female cricket teams representing the Eastern and Western Conferences of the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) enjoyed the cool March sunshine of Florida, in the inaugural national women’s cricket tournament in the United States of America.
These trailblazers, pathfinders, new-age pioneers, were all ready to go and had been preparing for a few weeks prior to getting to the Broward County Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida – the current showplace for international cricket in the USA. It was a mix of experience and innocence donning one of two attractive limited-overs colored cricket uniforms, and warming up for one of two weekend matches scheduled for the practice turf of the recently ICC approved ODI venue.
The initiative to have an Eastern Conference versus a Western Conference tournament by USACA was in preparation to select a National Women’s XI to represent the USA in the ICC Americas Women’s Cricket Tournament scheduled for the same venue from May 17-24, this year. That tournament will see teams from as far as Brazil to as close as Canada, vying for the title of top female cricketing nation in the Americas region. Of the six teams expected to participate in the tournament, Trinidad & Tobago would undoubtedly be considered the favorite going in, while coming out as the underdog would most likely be the USA. However, that consideration has done very little to blunt the spirit and enthusiasm of those women seeking to wear the red, white and blue of the USA next month.
With a blend of worldly experience and the innocence of those who are lifting a bat for the very first time in their lives, the USA is poised to either roll with the glorious uncertainty that is cricket, or exploit the ignorance of underdogs. The mixture of experience and lack thereof may very well be a good thing for the USA, now in its embryonic stage of the development of the sport among women in the USA.
The enthusiasm of experienced players such as Shirley-Ann Bonaparte, Roselyn Emanuel, Louise Brown-Jackson, Joy Jones, Isoline Sutherland, Doris Francis, Diana Richelieu, Ivy Mahabir, and Sandrina Parsons, is matched only by the grateful inexperience and joy of Lisa Matthew, Olga Charles, Devonie Hayles, Timika Kowlessar, Debbie Balley and Sandra Ibarra. In between, with some experience and certainly youth on their side are Indomatie Goordial-John, Sana Razzak, Candacy Atkins, and Deowantie Persaud.
The challenge to prepare a newly assembled USA Women’s XI is in many ways a daunting task, as it is a euphoric challenge for the women and USACA, in time for the May tournament. After all, what is there to lose through participation? The tournament being held on USA soil should attract younger players in the “female cricket witness protection program,” as many talented players with varying degrees of experience are still to be unearthed, having given up the sport after arriving in this country, and to no organized USA women’s cricket. As the sport unfolds among women in this country, it will hopefully attract athletic young ladies not afraid of the challenges of a relatively new sport to their American communities, while the older players who have contributed so much to the sport, mainly back in their home countries will be there to nurture and guide them through the rigors of the sport, from a purely female perspective.
As I watched former West Indies Test-player Shirley-Ann Bonaparte stroke to an effortless top-score of 34 in the first match, and mainly from a standing position, I could not help but admire one of the hardest-hitting female players to emerge from Trinidad & Tobago and the West Indies. Eastern Conference skipper Roselyn Emanuel, a former St. Lucian and West Indies Test-player also, was as smooth between the wickets as she is with a microphone in her hand singing Karaoke. Clearly cricket and the years in between have taken some of the edge off a few of the more experienced female players, but one could not help but notice the gleam in their eyes as they strode to the middle or made a diving catch they were reliving so many glorious moments from their past, and in front of many other players who simply watched, admired and learned.
The true grit, enthusiasm and determination of the younger players were heart-warming moments, as they sought to contribute to their teams, not to compete with their senior counterparts. The heroic Lisa Matthew, talented thinker Timika Kowlessar, and the fearless and energetic Devonie Hayles (MVP of Match 2), brought their youthful athleticism and verve to the field, albeit vying to don the colors of the USA next month. It is around such players that USACA would have to build a women’s team of the future, with the help of the Brown-Jackson’s, Bonaparte’s, Parsons’ and Mahabir’s of women’s cricket in the USA. Adding a sense of urgency and seizing the moment are the likes of all-rounder Western Conference skipper Indomatie Goordial-John (MVP of Match 1), classic batswoman Razzak, crafty keeper Persaud, talented competitor Atkins, the spirited all-rounder and Western Conference co-captain Isoline Sutherland, and the fiery pacer Joy Jones.
To see Sandra Ibarra, an accomplished (soft-ball) baseball player adapting to cricket, with the athletic approach of South Africa’s Jonty Rhodes, made for some rather exciting and rewarding moments. It is such a mix of experience and innocence that USA cricket will rely upon for the next three years, at least, while the attractive and colorful uniforms help American girls shift from their short skirts and pom-poms, cheering on the sidelines to sprinting up to and between the sticks in the middle.
Women’s cricket in America is coming of age.