Nowadays, everyone knows that Americans don’t play cricket.
It may then be surprising to know that until well into the twentieth century they played the game to ‘almost’ test standard and until baseball took over as America’s national sport, cricket was the most widely played team game in the country.
Surprisingly, the earliest international cricket match involved America and was played in 1844 against nearest neighbours Canada, (33 years before the first Ashes Test) at The St George’s Club in New York; Canada won by 23 runs in a match played over three days which was watched by over 10,000 spectators.
Several re-matches took place over the next few years, but when the American Civil War broke out in 1861, it spelt the end of the game across the country and from 1865 it confined itself primarily to the state of Pennsylvania.
It was particularly popular in Philadelphia, which in the early twentieth century boasted over 120 clubs and in 1905, played more than 400 cricket matches in one season. Perhaps, more importantly the vast majority of players were born in America.
On at least three occasions before WWI, ‘The Gentlemen of Philadelphia’ were strong enough to embark on ‘first class ‘ tours to England, where they played against County teams and often beat them and there was even talk of them becoming ‘The Fourth Test Playing Nation’ (behind England, Australia and South Africa), though this would eventually go to the West Indies in 1928.
As late as 1912, ‘The Gentlemen ‘ defeated an Australian XI by two runs and a 39 year old Bart King took an amazing 7 wickets for 78 runs with an incredible show of ‘swing bowling’, reinforcing his title as ‘The King of Swing!’ It was said that he had developed an incredibly illusive in-swinging delivery, which the legendary England Cricketer C.B.Fry , described as,
The best swerver I ever saw in my life!
Born in 1873, John Barton ‘Bart’ King, spent his early life playing baseball , but at 15 he was introduced to cricket at the Tiago Cricket Club, where he started as a batsman. However due to his considerable frame (6’1’’ and 12 stone 10 pounds), it was suggested that he should become a bowler.
He was first selected to play in an ‘international’ match in 1892 as an eighteen year old for ‘The Gentlemen of Philadelphia’ against ‘The Gentlemen of Ireland’ and took 19 wickets in the three match series and one year later he recorded a 5 for 78 against the touring Australians who were beaten by an innings and 68 runs; matches of this type, however were not considered to be of a ‘first class standard at this time.
In 1897, he toured England playing in 15 first class matches against English County teams, the highlight of which was a match against a ‘full strength Surrey XI’ (which included the England Test batsman Ranjitsinhji) where he took 12 wickets in a match the ‘Gentlemen’ won by 8 wickets.
In 1901, he took 28 wickets in two matches against a touring England team led by B.J.T Bosanquet, which included a career best of 8 for 78 and he received many offers to play in England, but always refused.
In 1904, the newly established Modern Olympic Games came to St Louis in the southern state of Missouri and Baron Pierre De Coubertin (the President of the International Olympic Committee) was very keen to include cricket as one of the sports to be played, after it’s spluttering introduction at the 1900 Games in Paris, four years earlier, but it was not to be.
Hilary Evans (who tweets as @Olympic statman) argues
Unfortunately, the official reason for cancelling the 1904 tournament at relatively short notice was the lack of pitches of suitable quality. We don’t know who else had entered but one that did was Philadelphia, who were probably the 3rd/4th best team in the world at this time and the team would have included three genuine ‘World Class’ players in John Lester, George Patterson and Bart King!
On his third and final tour in 1908, at 35 years of age, King produced his best performances in English conditions, claiming 87 wickets at an average of 11.01, the best by any bowler in England that summer.
He would play his last match in 1916 at the age of 43.
Sir Plum Warner (English Test cricketer 1899-1912) described King as, ‘Undoubtedly one of the finest bowlers of all time’ and Sir Donald Bradman, arguably the greatest cricketer of the twentieth century described him as, ‘America’s greatest cricketing son.’
Bart King played in 65 ‘first class’ matches during his career, taking 415 wickets and scoring 2, 214 runs. He took 10 wickets in a match on 11 occasions and 5 wickets hauls, 38 times.
In 1962 (three years before his death) he was elected as an, ‘Honorary Life Member of the MCC’, the only American ever to have been given such an honour.
Quite simply, he stands out as America’s greatest cricketer
As a postscript to this story, Cricket is currently raising its profile in the US as ‘Major League cricket’ (M.L.C.) is being played in the country based near Dallas in Texas, with a six team competition, which has attracted established internationals such as Liam Plunkett and Jason Roy from England and Quinton De Kock from South Africa.
It is also highly possible that cricket could return to the Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028.
Article © of Bill Williams