Sunday, May 19, 2024

T20 World Cup Could Reignite American Cricket Ahead Of LA Olympics

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Once upon a time in a galaxy not far away, the first international cricket fixture between two countries was played over at Bloomingdale Park in New York. 10,000 spectators witnessed the match with approximately $100,000 wagered. Next month, the United States of America and Canada will meet again in Texas to open the T20 Cricket World Cup. It’s been 180 years in the making although they have played each other annually in the Auty Cup.

The forthcoming global tournament will be co-hosted by the West Indies and has impressive stadiums in Dallas, Florida’s Broward Park and the 34,000-seater stadium in Nassau County’s Eisenhower Park which will host the blockbuster between India and Pakistan. The thrust of such a tournament can make the U.S. reconnect with its unknown past.

The International Cricket Council are aware of the sleeping giant that rests within the heritage of American bat and ball games. The largest sports market in the world had cricket embedded in communities well before home runs came to take its place. “We are trying to give them something they haven’t had on their doorstep before and maybe pique the interest of the American sports community by telling them that cricket’s actually an older sport in the US than baseball,” said Chris Tetley, the ICC’s Head of Events earlier in the week.

The T20 World Cup tournament director was in no doubt that the United States was an obvious choice for its ninth edition. “At the end of the pilot period [of the public ballot], we [had] almost close to 6 million ticket requests for the tournament. So, it’s been a really good response from people across the region,” Steve Baksh told USA Today back in February.

The launch of Major League Cricket’s first season was a commercial success, making over $8 million in revenues and attracting some of the game’s major international stars to play for six American franchise teams in sold-out stadiums. Team owners from the rainbow pot of gold that is the IPL have bought their respective teams in the American version, attracting even more investors.

There was already a considerable South Asian diaspora predisposed towards the game, but the bigger question for the ICC and all stakeholders was, and still is, to capture some part of the mainstream. The three-hour format of these matches should technically suit an American audience who feast on the MLB where an average game lasts just under two and three-quarter hours.

In an increasingly packed schedule, MLC will need to develop from its exciting premiere status to a consistent and sustainable basis of full stadia and world-class talent on the pitch. “There was a novelty factor in the first season, which won’t be there in the second season. We have to consciously build on what we’ve started,” Anand Rajaraman, San Francisco Unicorns co-owner, told Forbes earlier this year.

There has been a commitment from all teams to aim for a proper home and away tournament in future years as well as promoting local talent. It could be gold dust if the U.S. produces a poster boy who can be the face to drive the game. It may not be Travis Kelce or Patrick Mahomes, but the brand might find a Stars and Stripes hero this summer.

There’s a bigger picture in play with a T20 competition confirmed for the 2028 LA Olympics in October last year. This will provide cricket with an even more global stage to grow and push audience figures even further across fields of dreams. The game has only featured once in previous Olympics when Great Britain defeated France in Paris to pick up the gold medal in 1900.

Cricket was once the national sport of the country. In his book, The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America, Tom Melville claims that the game “failed in America because it never established an American character.” It might not be as fast and loose as baseball, but cricket will swing into the saloon with six-shooters and stumps flying when Dallas hosts these two North America giants on June 2.

The rest of the world can see it all too in full technicolor. Cricket is about to launch on the global runway of New York again.

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