|A global sporting celebration, with an expected worldwide audience in excess of 1.5 billion, will get going this weekend. And, for the most part, Americans won’t have a clue about it.|
In different corners of the planet, mass excitement is already bubbling for cricket’s T20 World Cup, which begins on Sunday in the United Arab Emirates and has the sport’s fans abuzz with conundrums such as these.
How will Afghanistan’s players cope with emotionally carrying the hopes of a broken nation on their shoulders?
Will England manage to throw away a chance at glory once more?
With South Africa fail to complete the task with the finish line in sight as they have so often?
Can anyone stop India and the mastery of their captain, Virat Kohli?
No, I thought not.
Yet while cricket has struggled to break into the United States, there is a school of thought that suggests “T20” – the most modern and shortened version of the sport, might actually be just right for a U.S. audience.
Matches are split into two innings, with one for each team spanning a maximum of 20 overs – an over is a grouping of six balls, or pitches – and are designed to last around three hours.
Mostly popular in nations that were once part of the British empire, such as Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand, the West Indies and South Africa, and a national obsession in India, the world’s second-most populated country, there is a lot to like for the uninitiated.
Baseball lovers will appreciate the intricacies of the famous old game. The outfielders in cricket possess a similar skillset to their cousins on the diamond while the batting and bowling/pitching elements are more nuanced without being completely unfamiliar.
The longest and most traditional form of cricket can last up to five days. T20, brought in to target a more contemporary audience, is an intriguing exercise in how age-old games can reinvent themselves for modern purpose.
Cricket can be found being played all over the United States – there are over 200,000 involved at the grassroots level according to USA Cricket, albeit mostly by expats whose families are engrossed by the game.
USA Cricket, led San Francisco 49ers executive CEO Paraag Marathe, has been encouraged by recent progress and is targeting the implementation of a new professional league.
Just as soccer saw North America as a golden goose ahead of the FIFA World Cup in 1994, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has also eyed the potential riches here.
With only a dozen countries seen as “major” cricketing nations, possible newcomers are welcomed with open arms.
“ICC, like World Rugby, wants a piece of the action in the United States and T20 is the ideal way to attract new viewers from the States,” said Adam Hathaway, a freelance cricket journalist based in London who regularly contributes to national and overseas media.
“The version of the game has proved a massive hit elsewhere since being introduced in England in 2003. Cricket’s leaders are desperate to tap into the market in the USA – but they are a million miles away from doing it at the moment.”
Maybe, although USA Cricket is making encouraging strides. Based in San Francisco, Marathe and his cricketing friends are not only establishing strong community links but also pushing the national team further into the conversation.
The U.S. squad missed out on qualification for this delayed edition but the onset of a global pandemic means another T20 World Cup is scheduled for next year and claiming a spot remains an attainable goal.
“American cricket will get much stronger in the coming years,” said Indianapolis-based Englishman Thomas Dunmore, Major League Cricket’s VP of Marketing.
“The national team will likely start qualifying for these events and then potentially even hosting a World Cup. Having those global spotlight events is what really gets everybody excited about the sport.”
Of course, the prospect of children up and down the country ditching their footballs or baseball mitts and picking up a cricket bat in the near future is far-fetched.
“It’s going to take time,” added Dunmore. “We’re not kidding ourselves that half of Americans are going to fall in love with cricket overnight. But with the size of this country and the predisposition of a good portion of the population who are already enjoying it, they are evangelists for the game and can help introduce it.”
The likelihood of the U.S. becoming a cricketing force won’t be a major topic when the action starts on Sunday, there’s too much immediate pride at stake and storied rivalries to be renewed for that. As for the future, however, there are positive signs.
And for those with a roving sporting eye, the chance to sample a World Cup with a new and unfamiliar twist might hold some appeal. The T20 World Cup almost certainly wasn’t on your must-see calendar at the start of this year, but it may just be worth a closer look.
Here’s what others have said …
Tom Dunmore, Major League Cricket VP of Marketing: “Cricket is absolutely on a fast track in the United States, with the goal of joining mainstream sports by the end of this decade. There are already many millions of cricket fans in the USA, with growing TV ratings for international cricket.”
Zofeen Maqsood, The American Bazaar: “It looks like cricket may finally have its field day in America!”