Steven Taylor is arguably the best current American player in a sport beloved by billions of people around the world. But it’s OK if you’ve never heard of him. Most people in high school didn’t know what he did either.
“I played all sports,” Taylor says of his South Florida childhood. “Straight from middle school I played football, basketball, track and field. But my main sport was always cricket.”
Cricket. In India and Pakistan, it’s the biggest sport by such a margin that the second biggest isn’t visible in the rearview mirror. In countries as diverse as Australia, South Africa, England and most English-speaking nations of the Caribbean, it’s a sport that has held sway since the days of the British Empire, but which sometimes struggles to adapt and find relevance today. In the U.S., it’s something sports fans have most likely noticed while looking for something else on ESPN’s online streaming service. And in the Fort Lauderdale area – Lauderhill, to be exact – it is the sport that has its first big, purpose-built U.S. stadium. (If you didn’t know, it’s that structure with the red-roofed stands next to the Thunderbird Swap Shop.)
In late July, that stadium will host a handful of Caribbean Premier League matches. The CPL is one of the world’s more popular leagues in T20, the shortest form of cricket. (You may have heard about cricket matches lasting five days. Some do, but there are different forms of the sport and a T20 match lasts about as long as a baseball game.) And Steven Taylor will take the field for the Barbados Tridents.
“This is a big thing,” Taylor says. “I see myself making it higher than just playing for the United States. I see myself playing more cricket in a higher class, a higher standard.”
Taylor’s a wicketkeeper, the cricket equivalent of a baseball catcher. As a batsman, he’s known as a powerful, quick scorer. Like many American cricketers, he’s a first-generation American with a family from a cricket-playing country – in his case, Jamaica.
He’s played the game since he was a boy – but when you do that in the U.S., you don’t tend to have experiences like those of a typical little leaguer.
“My first game was in an adult league,” he says. “I was like 8 years old.
“Growing up, there was a very high standard. There were a lot of guys who played for their country (in the Caribbean) and then couldn’t make it to the next level, and then went to America to make a living.”
Wayne Ramnarine coached Taylor through much of his childhood and teen years. Ramnarine’s a longtime South Florida youth cricket coach; Taylor went to school and played cricket with his son, Ryan. “He was always a big, strong kid,” Ramnarine says. “We had to get him straightened out – everything he did was across the line, right side. We got him playing to the covers. When he got to 17, he really started hitting it around the ground.” (OK, that doesn’t translate directly to baseball-speak, so let’s just go with: He started out trying to hit everything 400 feet, and he needed to learn discipline.)
As Taylor developed and learned the game, it was clear to the people around him he had next-level talent. There was just one problem. He’s an American.
The recent history of U.S. cricket is a sad and tangled one. In 2015 the USA Cricket Association, the sport’s U.S. governing body, was suspended by the ICC, cricket’s international governing body. This follows years of questions about the U.S. body’s governance, as well as limited opportunities for U.S. players. National team structure varies between limited and nonexistent – top players hold down jobs, most sort out their own coaching and training and often find themselves paying their own way to cricket tournaments if they want to take part with the national team.
Without any professional structure – or a platform to gain the kind of exposure that could lead to professional opportunities elsewhere – players such as Taylor have suffered.
“What I would have liked to have seen was a proper structure in U.S. cricket,” Ramnarine says. “I think he could have got to the international stage at 20, 21. If the U.S. had a better cricket structure … he probably would have got a contract to play somewhere. The US has zero program.
“Right now he’s at the point where his game is well-rounded. The only avenue for him to be a full-time cricketer is in the Caribbean, and the Caribbean doesn’t play cricket year-round.”
For Taylor’s part, he understands that moving on in cricket means becoming a hired gun, looking for tournaments and leagues. Broadly speaking, cricket is structured much differently than baseball – imagine if top ballplayers played in a two-month Major League Baseball season, then headed off to Japan for two months, then South Korea for six weeks, then a winter’s month in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. For Taylor and other top Americans, the reality is going wherever they can get a game.
“Honestly, USA’s my home, and this is where I grew up playing cricket. But the U.S. can only take me so far,” Taylor says. “The bigger things in life will be from playing cricket (in traditional cricket-playing nations).”
These Lauderhill matches won’t change that – a few roadshow games from an outside league is not the same as a U.S. cricket infrastructure. But it will be good to play in the hometown. And overall, the CPL could be an important, internationally watched showcase for Taylor’s talents. After that, Taylor says, he doesn’t necessarily want to travel all the time. But he wants to keep climbing in his sport.
“I want to go to another premier league,” he says. “I just want to go play cricket.”
See It Live
Caribbean Premier League matches in Lauderhill are scheduled for July 28 through 31. Steven Taylor’s Tridents face the Guyana Amazon Warriors at 7 p.m. on July 28 and 4 p.m. on July 30. Other matches include the St. Kitts & Nevis Patriots vs the Trinbago (Trinidad and Tobago) Knight Riders at 7 p.m. on July 29 and noon on July 31; and the St Lucia Zouks vs the Jamaica Tallawahs at noon on July 30 and 4 p.m. on July 31.
For tickets and more information, visit cplt20.com. Tickets are also available from the box office of the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, located next to the cricket stadium.