Alex Massie

Obama and Cricket

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It's true you know, Barack Obama does want to un-make the United States of America. First he takes a quick cricket lesson from Brian Lara, now he's reading Joseph O'Neill's (splendid) Netherland - a novel that is, at least in part, about cricket in New York City. Could anything be more un-American? Of course not. Except, of course, cricket has a long and proud history in the United States and, for a while, it seemed as likely that cricket would become the national pastime as baseball. Indeed, the world's first international cricket match was contested by teams representing the United States and Canada.

Personally, I blame the decision to move the capital from Philadelphia to Washington DC for cricket's eclipse. Philly, after all, was the home of American cricket and in more fanciful moments I like to think that had it remained the capital then cricket might have become the sport of choice for the republic's political elite when Philadephia cricket was ascendant in the 1850-1910 period. Heck, Abraham Lincoln is said to have attended a match between Chicago and Milwaukee in 1859 and if ever an American President might be thought to have the temperament for cricket it was the old Railsplitter himself.

In its heyday there were more than 100 cricket clubs in Philadelphia. But cricket's moment was brief and after the Civil War the greatest game found itself swamped by the new passion for baseball. Nonetheless, American cricket is probably healthier now than it has been in 80 years. So it's good to see the President doing his bit to bring the United States back into the fold of the English-Speaking Peoples...

Just to be silly*, here's an XI chosen from American Presidents:

1. George Washington - obdurate opening batsman who actually played the game himself.

2. Calvin Coolidge - a master at leaving the ball alone, securing one end while the rest of the team goes about its business

3. James Monroe - determined to assert his prerogative and warn bowlers off from attacking one side of his wicket.

4. John F Kennedy - youthful star who too often flattered only to deceive; occasional brilliance undermined by recklessness. Left his admirers wanting more and contemplating what might have been.

5. Teddy Roosevelt  - a powerful biffer, though one whose record was not quite as great as his talent or his opinion of himself suggested it ought to be.

6. Andrew Jackson -  a forceful, attacking batsman and fast bowler who was, for a while, the people's favourite. Rustic technique, but great bravado.

7. William H Taft - massive wicket-keeper who, when batting, always needed to "get them in boundaries".

8. Ulysses S Grant - hard-drinking, profane fast bowler who led the attack and excelled in desperate circumstances. Never believed a cause was lost. Also the author of some surprisingly good cricketing memoirs...

9. Abraham Lincoln  lugubrious off-spinner, possessed of unusual patience, vision and determination. History was kinder to his reputation than were his contemporaries.

10. Harry Truman - nagging, easily under-estimated medium-pacer whose unassuming manner gave little hint of the steel within.

11.William Henry Harrison  - a genuine rabbit who never troubled the scorers.

*If you think this too daft for words then you may be sensible. But I have previous on this sort of caper.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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