Revealed: cricket's early days as America's favourite sport

Babe Ruth, the legendary baseball star, might easily have spent his career hitting sixes instead of home runs. Yesterday, the first academic conference ever devoted to cricket was told that it, rather than baseball, was the first love of Americans.

Babe Ruth, the legendary baseball star, might easily have spent his career hitting sixes instead of home runs. Yesterday, the first academic conference ever devoted to cricket was told that it, rather than baseball, was the first love of Americans.

It was attracting huge crowds by the middle of the 19th century and, had it not been for the American Civil War in the 1860s, Joe DiMaggio and co might have hit their way into sporting history alongside the likes of Len Hutton and Denis Compton.

"Cricket was the most popular team sport in North America in the 1850s," said Tim Lockley, an expert in American history at Warwick University, where the conference took place.

He said Americans and Canadians were playing organised cricket long before the Australians - in fact, the first international sporting event was a match between the USA and Canada in 1844.

"Cricket was by far the biggest sport in this period," Dr Lockley went on. "Then the civil war started in 1861, just when it was reaching its peak of popularity. The sport became a victim of that war."

He said there had been an English tour of North America in 1859, led by cricketing legends John Lillywhite and John Wisden, who went on to found the hallowed Wisden Cricketers' Almanac.

For one game of that tour, against the Canadians in Montreal, more than 25,000 spectators turned up to watch the English thrash the opposition by eight wickets.

"Crowds this size were almost unheard of for a sporting event in the 19th century anywhere in the world," Dr Lockley said. "This was a testament to the amazing popularity of cricket on the North American continent. There was nothing that could compete with it as a crowd-puller."

In fact, Dr Lockley said, the Americans had serious designs on becoming a world force in cricket themselves. It was they who funded the 1859 tour, paying the English players generous sums of money to tour their country.

Dr Lockley said: "Such was the competitive nature and popularity of cricket in North America, the Canadians and Americans were prepared to pay substantial sums of money in order to play the best in the world.

"They had real cricketing ambitions and there was a very real desire to learn from the best in the world."

Unfortunately, it appears, they weren't up to scratch. The English team, despite sportingly allowing them to field 22 players to their 11, were victorious in every single match, often with more than an innings to spare.

The Civil War appears to have killed off the American enthusiasm for cricket, which was overtaken by the previously obscure sport of baseball - not least because so many of their young cricket players were killed.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing