• Peter Templeton

Cricket in the US - The First International

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

We are not used to thinking of the United States alongside the game of Cricket. Somewhere along the line, the two great field games played in England seemed to diverge until Cricket nearly obliterated its rivals in the UK from whence it spread throughout the empire, while baseball was refined and revised and went on to become the ‘national pastime’ of the US, virtually unrecognisable from its European ancestors.

Such a clear divergence is misleading, however. Through the revolutionary period and the nineteenth century the US was inevitably always involved in a push-and-pull relationship with Britain, at the time still the much bigger country and with a huge influence over the new nation. That included things like literary taste, fashion, but also things like the games that people played. Take something like American Football – it is now a decidedly American institution and the Super Bowl is beamed around the world as an emblematic icon of American culture, and yet it descends from the game of Rugby. In it’s earliest form it was referred to as ‘American Rugby Football’ and the revisions to the rules that we see in the game are in many ways similar to the spectator-friendly innovations made in Rugby League.

Cricket match played in Hoboken, 1859

With that in mind it should not be a surprise to learn that in this period Cricket would have had some cultural resonance in the US, even if it was not the phenomenon that it had become by this time in the UK. What might come as a surprise, though, is that the very first international featured the United States.

Two local clubs, one from New York and one from Toronto, had played each other in 1840, and there had been such fellowship between the two sides that they arranged a rematch in the United States four years later. When the time came, though, the clubs were not representing local sides, but one represented the British Empire Province of Canada, and the other the United States. This is some 33-years before Australia were granted ‘test’ status and England played their first official test match.

The American team was drawn primarily from the major cities of the East coast, with players coming from Philadelphia and Boston to join in the game in New York. It was, in the end, a rather low-scoring affair, and the decision by the American captain to field, combined with the entire second day being washed out and the extension of the game into a third, suggests that the conditions may have had something to do with that. In the days of uncovered wickets, it is hard to imagine that the pitches would have been unsullied by that amount of rainfall.

The first Canadian wicket fell for three, before the opener David Winckworth put on 12 for the second wicket. The Canadian total then progressed by small degrees with only George Sharpe and the mysterious ‘Freeling’ able to match Winckworth’s first innings total of 12. The Sheffield-born Sam Wright took five wickets for the US. In reply, the American top order were skittled by Winckworth and Fred French, and it was only their captain, Robert Tinson, who was able to offer any real opposition in their reply of 64.

Sam Wright (pictured with his son Harry)

Winckworth again top scored for Canada in the second innings and with support from GA Philpotts adding 13 the US were set a score of 82 to win. The American reply started well, with them racing to 25 without loss, but once the two openers fell a chain reaction began, including four Americans being removed without troubling the scorers. Canada were victorious by 23 runs.

In an interesting historical footnote, having played a crucial role in Canada’s victory here, David Winckworth would eventually move to Detroit and would play in the same game for the US against Canada in 1846. The movement not only of the game, but of players - from Sheffield to the US and between the teams – speaks volumes about the interconnectedness of the Anglophone world in this period, and about how America remains deeply tied to the colonial world that it had separated from at the end of the previous century.

Dr Peter Templeton is Honorary Fellow of the School of the Arts, English and Drama at Loughborough University.

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