Ask your average American Joe about cricket, and he'll picture noblemen, dressed in white livery, sipping cups of tea while a sickly servant polishes their finely carved bats. But a new lawsuit claims the state of cricket in the U.S. is anything but aristocratic. A Silicon Valley millionaire is now suing the United States of America Cricket Association -- bizarrely based in Miami Beach -- over accusations it tried to rig elections and illegally hold onto power.
"We cannot tolerate this in America," plaintiff Ram Varadarajan says. "It might be OK in some banana republic, but this is a land of the rule of law."
Cricket, for the uninitiated, is basically baseball, only classier, with tea breaks instead of chewing tobacco. There are an estimated 200,000 U.S. cricket players -- many of South Asian or Caribbean descent. As for how the national association came to be headquartered in Miami Beach, no one seems to know for certain.
What's undeniable is that the battle to control American cricket has become downright spicy.
Varadarajan, a Mumbai native who made a fortune in California with a software company, wants to end what he calls "illegal" actions by this country's cricket leaders. His accusations land like wicked googlies at the feet of the incumbent USACA president, a genial Guyana native with the grand name of Gladstone Dainty.
Varadarajan blames Dainty for the organization's decline. He points out that in 2007, his group was penalized by the ICC -- not the International Criminal Court, but the slightly less powerful International Cricket Council -- for arbitrarily postponing its elections. As a result, it was forced to adopt a constitution.
Five years later, Varadarajan says, the association is blatantly violating that constitution. In a lawsuit that begins by loftily quoting Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev ("The trouble with free elections is you never know who is going to win"), Varadarajan claims the board of directors used a bogus audit to illegally disqualify leagues -- including Varadarajan's California Cricket Academy -- that oppose Dainty.
"It is no accident that a majority of the 15 leagues authorized to vote cast their ballots for the incumbent... president in the last election," the lawsuit says, "or that a majority of the 32 disenfranchised leagues did not."
The association also ignored a requirement to hold an election by November 30, Varadarajan says, scheduling it for April instead.
"This is a naked abuse of office to continue to be in power," Varadarajan says. "The first thing we need to do is to stop this sham election. Then we need to instead hold a legitimate election in which all the leagues can vote."
Dainty, who speaks in obscure cricket analogies, denies that he or anyone else at USACA has done anything wrong. But he says Varadarajan's accusations are to be expected from a competitor. "I'm a cricketer -- nothing surprises me," he says. The lawsuit is a "short ball," he adds, clarifying that the metaphor means he expects to easily dispatch it.
"Elections weren't delayed for any sinister reason," Dainty claims. He says rapid growth and new partnerships with cricket powers such as New Zealand, Australia, India, and Singapore meant the association had to demand a higher standard.
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A professional league is slated to start next year, he notes, with games played at a soon-to-be-completed field in Fort Lauderdale. As for Varadarajan, Dainty calls him "an unknown quantity," adding, "I have not known Ram to articulate a cricket vision."
If there is anything the two men agree on, it's that cricket -- the world's second-biggest sport -- should be more popular here. Yet while one immigrant blames poor stewardship for the game's sorry state, the other counters that an over-the-top lawsuit isn't helping.
"I don't think it does anything good for the game," Dainty says. "And I'm a servant for cricket."