While most pro athletes in this country have followed a relatively linear and predictable path in order to make it to the top of their game, the road isn’t always as easy and straightforward for professional cricketers in the US. To make it to Minor League Cricket, players have had to navigate some pretty interesting routes (read parts one, two and three for more stories). Steve Steinberg from CricAmerica sat down with a couple of players who’ve not only made it to the top professional level in this country, but were also both recently named to the USA Men’s National Team.
The last thing that former first-class New Zealand cricketer, Marty Kain, expected to be doing when he retired and moved to the US was playing cricket. But life doesn’t always pay attention to your plans. The 33-year old’s “retirement” didn’t last too long. He not only ended up having a solid Minor League Cricket season with the San Diego Surf Riders, but his strong performance at the Men’s Nationals in November landed him a spot on the USA Cricket national team.
“Tennis was probably my number one sport as a young kid,” says Kain. “But there was basketball, golf, soccer, rugby. Kids in New Zealand definitely play a lot of sports. When they get older, they might get more into one sport, but a lot of the good athletes will play a lot of sports which does help them become well-rounded athletes. When I went to boarding school is when I took my cricket more seriously. And by the time I was 20, it was all cricket.”
After a ten-year career primarily with the Central Stags, Kain needed a break from the game. “I was about 29 when I retired in New Zealand. My wife’s American and she was pretty keen to do her master’s degree over here. At that point, my career was going ok, but I was a little bit burnt out. And I certainly had zero intentions of having anything to do with cricket in the US. So, I took a year off and then started coaching and now have a coaching business, which I do full time. And I slowly got roped back into playing. Now, I’m playing and coaching non-stop.”
And how did he find the demand for a cricket coach in a country that’s not particularly known for cricket? “It’s outrageous. People ask me if I want to go back to New Zealand and coach and I tell them, to be honest, the market for coaching is a lot bigger in the US than it is in New Zealand.”
The level of play in this country impressed him, as well. “I think the cricket here is deceptively good. Every time I turn out to play, I’m surprised by the players that turn up. There are so many ex-pat players here that have first-class and international experience. You just don’t know who you’re going to come up against.”
And he was equally impressed by how well the Minor League Cricket season was run. “It was pretty smooth sailing. Good teams assembled and some nice grounds. A nice schedule where we’re playing over seven weeks and traveling around playing good, tough cricket. I thought it was fantastic — exactly what this country needs.”
As for the future of Minor League Cricket and USA Cricket? “My forecast is that there’ll be more and more homegrown players over the next five years especially with the professionals that have moved here who can add value from a coaching perspective. We’ll see the US beating some of those better second-tier teams and, in a perfect world, eventually taking on some of those top-tier teams. I think the future is very bright here.” Now, as a member of the national team, he’s in a great position to help shape that future.
Who would Marty want to play with on his Dream XI? “I think I’d have to get David Warner in there because he’s a feisty little guy at the top. And then a Dre Russell is going to be useful to bounce some balls around. And then from a bowling perspective, I’d have to take a Kiwi like a Trent Boult to fit in there somewhere.”
Rahul Jariwala has a lot more on his plate than your typical 17-year-old. While most high school seniors are focused on grades, applying to colleges, and looking for a prom date, Rahul Jariwala has the added responsibility of trying to carve out a successful international cricketing career. Following a spring which found him on the outside looking in when it came to the USA Under-19 team, Rahul has thrown things into overdrive. He was a vital cog in the Silicon Valley Strikers’ championship Minor League Cricket season and then outscored all batsmen at the Men’ Nationals in Texas. His reward? Jariwala was just named to USA Cricket’s men’s senior team.
“With college applications, grades, as well as cricket, it can be pretty difficult to balance it all out. From talking to other players, I’ve learned that in other countries — Test-playing nations — cricket is not necessarily a hobby, it’s life. Even for some kids my age in India, school is almost secondary. Their first priority is cricket. Whereas here, it’s school first and then whatever time you have left over is when you have to fit in your cricket and fitness.”
Born and raised in Fremont, California, the first bats that Rahul was swinging were actually baseball bats. But it didn’t take him long to discover the local cricket culture. “Luckily, growing up in the Bay Area, there are a lot of South Asian families and cricket is quite popular here. I’ve gotten support from local leagues that have competitive cricket. I’ve also gotten support from my friends. It’s good to be able to converse with them about the sport and have them understand what I’m saying instead of it being complete nonsense to them.”
And when did he realize that a career in cricket was possible? “Once I started getting invited to the combines and trials for my first Under-19 team, I think that’s when I started to realize that I can play for something bigger than myself.” (And it should be noted that he made that U19 team when he was 14.) “After that, there was the introduction of Minor League Cricket and Major League Cricket, and then things like World Cup qualifiers for the USA Men’s team and Ireland touring here. Things like that inspire me to keep going. They give me motivation, because I know there’s a future for the sport in America.”
What did he learn from his first season of Minor League Cricket — especially since he spent much of it opening the batting with former Indian U19 World Cup captain, Unmukt Chand? “You definitely gain a sense of professionalism. UC and some of my other teammates like Shehan (Jayasuriya) and Narsingh (Deonarine) have a sense of what it’s like to play at the highest levels. And they bring that sense to you. It kind of makes you switch gears and understand the importance of having that sense of professionalism.”
And how cool was the championship weekend in Morrisville? “The atmosphere was just amazing. I’d heard of the North Carolina atmosphere — and I’d played there before — but it had never been like that. After the game, kids were coming up to UC and asking for autographs. And then someone came and asked me for something and I honestly didn’t know what to do. They asked me for a glove and I was ready to give them my whole kit bag. It was an amazing experience. I’m really hoping that level of viewership and fanship can continue throughout the years.”
“I’m at the right age where I can make full use of everything happening around me — minor league, major league, and, hopefully, the men’s team soon. I think it’s important for me to stay focused and understand that there are these opportunities, but in order to take advantage of them, I have to keep working hard. Nothing is handed to me. Nothing will be handed to me.” And the 17-year-old will be bringing that wise-beyond-his-years mindset and work ethic to the next level after earning a spot on the Men’s National Team.
Who would Rahul want to play with on his Dream XI? “I’ve got to go with Rohit Sharma. That man is class. Then Bumrah. I mean you can’t really take anyone over him. And to keep away from the Indian bias, I’ve got to go with Rashid Khan.”