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Paraag Marathe, the outgoing USA Cricket chairman, always planned to step away from being the front man once the blocks were built in a country deemed a sleeping giant of the sport.
The timing of his resignation, announced last week and closing the curtain on his four-year tenure, raised eyebrows amid a period of tumult for cricket in the U.S., which has an infamous history of bloodletting, marked by a longstanding lawsuit over delayed board elections and the legitimacy of Marathe’s re-appointment last year.
Disgruntled board director Venu Pisike told ESPNCricinfo that Marathe’s resignation was part of an agreement for the lawsuit to be dropped. Marathe, who has a high-profile day job as long-time top executive at the San Francisco 49ers and is also vice chairman of Leeds United Football Club, rejected that assertion.
“A minority of individuals tried to make it out that it was a trade,” Marathe told me during a Zoom call. “In reality, I had been thinking about it from the beginning. This was always planned.”
Having been swayed to continue in the role last year, during his contentious re-appointment, Marathe by the end of 2021 believed the time was right to step down.
“Late last year, I told the board that I was winding down,” he said. “Some of it was governing body fatigue but a lot of things had been set up.
“The lawsuit… we didn’t think it had merits…we were trying to expedite that. It happened to coincide (dropped lawsuit and his resignation).”
The venomous underbelly of American cricket, which led to the expulsion of USA Cricket Association last decade paving the way for the Marathe-led new governing body, caught the 44-year-old unaware in an eye-opener of the bitter politics that so often engulfs cricket worldwide. Marathe had not been particularly versed beforehand in cricket despite the sport being a passion of his India-born father.
“It’s surprising the level of discourse and different opinions…sometimes doesn’t feel like we’re steering in the same direction,” he said. “I’m most proud that we got a lot accomplished despite the choppy waters. I had to take a lot of shit from the vocal minority.
“But everyone is extremely passionate. People care.”
Marathe hoped his successor could be found in the next few months in what looms as a tough task to fill the shoes of an influential American sports administrator who brought considerable gravitas to the nascent governing body along with former chief executive Iain Higgins.
“It takes someone who needs to see the forest through the trees,” Marathe said of the chair role. “It will require someone who has the vision to outlast something past their lifetime.
“And it will require patience to deal with disparate views. There are lots of personalities and egos in this space.”
Marathe, however, won’t be completely lost to cricket in the U.S. even though the press in the U.K. gleaned that he may be freed up to devote more time to his Leeds United role.
“I’ll be involved in the development of the game, in the commercial aspects which is my wheelhouse…building stadiums and organization development,” said Marathe, who has been described in NFL coverage over the years as ‘hyper intelligent’ and a ‘whiz kid’.
“Before, it was building a foundation. Now I’ll be spending more time developing cricket.”
Marathe, importantly, remains a key member of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) five-person working group tasked with leading cricket’s push to be part of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics. The group has had tweaks since its original formation in late 2020, although it was not publicly announced until during the Tokyo Games, with Marathe the only non ICC board director.
There have been concerns, according to sources, of the bid getting off to a slow start and skepticism from some insiders whether the $3 million Olympic bid will be successful amid strong competition, including from baseball-softball, karate and lacrosse.
Cricket’s sole Olympic appearance was at the 1900 Olympics, contested only by Britain and France. The ICC is pushing for eight teams per gender with the T20 format preferred, according to sources, as a pivotal juncture in the Los Angeles Games bidding process looms ahead of cricket’s fate being determined next year.
ICC chief executive Geoff Allardice during a recent visit to the U.S. met with key Los Angeles Games stakeholders and officials to shore up cricket’s candidacy along with Marathe, who already has valuable relationships through his high-profile day job.
“I’m friends with some of them who worked with me at the NFL and the 49ers,” Marathe said. “It’s about trying to convince them that the LA Games has an opportunity to reach at least another billion eyeballs, which you can get in South Asia.
“More eyeballs mean commercial opportunities. Cricket should have been in the Olympics a long time ago.
“I’m hopeful but ultimately it’s not our choice.”
During Allardice’s visit, Marathe spent time reassuring him on the future of American cricket amid a potentially uncertain period ahead of two other important milestones – next year’s launch of Major League Cricket, its professional T20 league, and the 2024 T20 World Cup co-hosted by the U.S. and the West Indies.
“We do need to mend fences and make sure we are someone the ICC can trust to co-host the 2024 T20 World Cup,” Marathe said. “Trust is not given, it’s earned.”
As he takes a back seat from cricket, publicly anyway, Marathe has not allowed the vitriol on the fringes to sully his vision for cricket in the world’s biggest sports market.
Whenever he’s left pondering the state of cricket in such a congested landscape, Marathe’s reminded of its growing imprint in communities across the U.S. “When I was on a road trip last season with the 49ers in Detroit, outside my hotel there was a giant youth cricket event on. There were 100 kids playing cricket,” he said.
“When I started in this role, I didn’t realise cricket was everywhere in the U.S. I thought it was a niche sport. There is so much passion and interest in cricket here.
“We just have to work together.”