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Cricket in America – Dr. Nilesh D. Mehta

A major league in 2023. A World Championship in 2024. And, possibly, the Olympics in 2028.
In a sports-obsessed country like the United States of America, which routinely hosts world-class events, not many would bat an eyelid looking at a line-up like this. Yet, all these could end up being path-breaking moments given that these mega-events will be held not for a sport that is traditionally played in the USA, but for cricket, largely a fringe sport in the country.
Nearly 178 years ago, the first cricket match on American soil was played at St. George’s Club Ground in New York, a baseball field, between the US and Canada. Subsequent to this historic match, there has been a yawning gap as cricket dwindled into oblivion, living in the shadows of more popular national pastimes like baseball.
Such is the aura of the sport in the US that generations have grown up accompanying their fathers and grandfathers to baseball parks, where having a hotdog and sipping beer on a hot summer evening while watching the Cubs became a ritual of sorts.
But after being on the fringes for decades, cricket has gradually started to make its presence felt. At first, it began to flourish in local pockets, where tennis ball matches at municipal grounds or park districts have been a recreational activity for many on the weekends.
For the South Asian diaspora, it became a medium to connect with like-minded people, thus creating a feeling of home away from home.
As the tennis ball tournaments picked up over the last few decades, it led to the growth of red-ball cricket in selected cities, especially those with dense populations of South Asians. But it largely remained an amateur setup, where people played for personal enjoyment, with a plethora of cricket clubs scattered throughout the United States.
Even though the US has been participating in ICC events for several years, the pathway still isn’t straightforward. A child born and brought up in the States will need a lot more accessibility to proper cricketing facilities, along with adequate infrastructure, as the grass-roots programme still isn’t robust.
Presently, it would be a rare sight for a high school in Chicago to offer cricket as a sport for kids to play. Having spoken to officials who aspire to take cricket in the US to the next level, there appears to be a genuine excitement in this regard and possibly the days may not be that far to see cricket become a mainstream sport in the USA.
Their confidence stems from the hugely-successful Minor League Cricket (MiCL), which took place last year with over 25 teams participating. Toyota and Sling TV came to support the sport financially and a grand prize of $125000 was given to the Silicon Valley Strikers from California, a state where cricket has taken off in a big way.
Former India junior star Unmukt Chand hailed the inaugural edition of the MiCL. “It was a great tournament that got very competitive by the end. It’s good that the whole structure is changing across the USA, teams are getting more professional, good players are coming in and even the local players have started to take it very seriously. To be able to play this year, they’ve to improve their game because the level of competition has increased,” he said.
This will be the second year of Minor League Cricket. But already, preparations for Major League Cricket’s launch, supposedly in 2023, have been in the works behind closed doors for the last few years.
Tom Dunmore, the Vice-President (marketing) of Major League Cricket said: “The trajectory of American cricket over the next several years has incred- ible upside. Major League Cricket will bring world-class T20 to a domestic cricket fanbase of millions across the United States, who currently watch over- seas leagues late at night or early in the morning. MLC will offer fans the chance to watch top-level cricket in person at multiple outstanding cricket-specific stadiums being developed across the country or via prime time broadcasts.”
With the proliferation of cricket in the USA, an injection of more positive news has come from the ICC with the announcement of the T20 World Cup to be hosted by the USA in 2024. More importantly, what has been the most exciting part of this information is that the USA Men’s National Team will auto- matically qualify since they are co-hosts of the T20 World Cup in 2024. Imagine the excitement of the current USA cricket team players to be competing with the best in the world.
Indeed, cricket would never supplant baseball or basketball in the United States. Home runs are what excite baseball fans. But three hours of action- packed cricket could also interest an average Joe, who has until now found the five-day-long version of the game quite boring.
Breaking into the mainstream USA market of the sports industry would be a far-fetched dream. However, with the ever-increasing South Asian diaspora and the intermingling of different nationalities at various levels, there is a distinct possibility of making inroads into the mainstream American sports industry.
On the national scene playing in the ICC World Cup League Two, the USA has produced some good performances. While they have not troubled the record keepers in a major way, the team appears to be on the right track with proper coaching and high-performance centers becoming available.
Clearly, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has continued to be a major impediment in the progress of cricket in the USA. As time goes on, that will only continue to improve. Now, what needs to happen in the very near future is more cricket stadia (which are in the works in major metropolitan markets in the USA), better facilities for players who are competing, focussed management and administration with a sense of urgency for improvement, and unearthing hidden talent that can be showcased at a national level.
Dunmore sounds optimistic about the future, saying that ‘an entire pyramid of American cricket is being built out from the grassroots and up’. “That includes the installation of dozens of new pitches, the expansion of academy and youth programs, the growth of women’s cricket and the recruitment of first-class professional players. This leads up to the USA co-hosting the 2024 World Cup with the West Indies, showcasing the game in the US on the global stage and introducing the sport to new audiences in America. The future for American cricket is dazzlingly bright!”

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