Cricket is trying to take the US by storm, but is it working?

An American fan enjoys the atmosphere during the opening match of the 2024 T20 World Cup between USA and Canada – ICC/Matt Roberts

Cricket isn’t trying to reconquer America; it’s trying to revive a game that already died there once.

In 1844, the US hosted Canada in New York in what is considered the first international team match in any sport. About 10,000 people watched over two days. Now, 180 years later, this match opened the 2024 Twenty20 World Cup at the Grand Prairie Stadium, Texas, with the hosts winning by seven wickets.

Until the American Civil War broke out in 1861, cricket was the most popular game in America. By 1900, the US had one of the best bowlers in the world: Bart King, a swing bowler who imported techniques from baseball pitchers. “One who, at the height of his strength and speed, was at least the equal of the greatest of them all,” said Plum Warner, the former England captain who regularly played against King. In both 1893 and 1912 the Gentleman of Philadelphia defeated the almost entire Australian teams returning from test tours of England. The US might have been the fourth best team in the world right now.

But as Ratchett in Murder on the Orient ExpressAmerican cricket wasn’t killed with one hand alone. It was seriously damaged by the American Civil War. Baseball was an easier game for soldiers to play, and subsequently was mythologized as an all-American game, even though it was also an English import. While cricket continued to flourish in Philadelphia – there were approximately 100 cricket clubs in the city in 1900 – American cricket was further hampered by the sport’s global governance.

The first global governing body for the game was founded in 1907: the Imperial Cricket Conference. By the name itself, the Imperial Cricket Conference excluded countries outside the British Empire, depriving them of Test status. Since then, American cricket has been synonymous with a secret society for much of its history.

Maybe no longer. By bringing 16 matches of the T20 World Cup to the US, the first ever global event to be hosted in the country (the remaining 39 matches will be played in the West Indies) represents the biggest attempt yet to bring the sport here to grow.

“There’s a great atmosphere,” said American bowler Ali Khan, whose yorkers previously earned him a contract in the Indian Premier League and who took a wicket in his team’s opening win over Canada. “We are going to have a whole new exposure for the game of cricket in this country. The game has never been discussed in media like this before. So things can only get better from here.”

Ali Khan tries to take the US by storm during USA's match with Canada/Cricket, but is it working?Ali Khan tries to take the US by storm during USA's match with Canada/Cricket, but is it working?

American fast bowler Ali Khan, pictured in their opening win over Canada, has previously earned an Indian Premier League contract – AFP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

Aaron Jones (right) hit an unbeaten 94 as the US defeated Canada in their opening matchAaron Jones (right) hit an unbeaten 94 as the US defeated Canada in their opening match

Aaron Jones (right) hit an unbeaten 94 as the USA defeated Canada in their opening match – ICC/Matt Roberts

For fans in the US, the idea of ​​World Cup matches being played in the country is a bit surreal. “There is excitement in the air,” said Amit Bhatia, president of The Wanderers New York Cricket Club, ahead of the competition. “It’s great to see teams like the Indian cricket team practicing and playing in New York for the first time.”

Yet there is some discomfort that the World Cup is more about monetizing the interest that already exists, especially from the South Asian diaspora, than about attracting new supporters.

“It’s very transparent that the number one objective of this is to get as much money as possible from the existing fan base,” said Peter Della Penna, a leading American cricket journalist and broadcaster. “Little effort has been made to market and engage casual sports fans new to cricket.”

Eisenhower Park, the 34,000-seat venue in New York, will be the center of American cricket this summer. Yet all on-field matches, even on weekdays, start at 10:30 a.m. local time: ideal for those watching in India, when it’s 8 p.m., and less so for those who have to travel 30 miles from New York City. It is unclear how many cricket uninitiated will make the trip.

“I have yet to see a huge buzz from locals and people from non-cricket backgrounds,” said Hari Sundaragopalan, the president of the Gotham Cricket Club in New York. “Many residents of the city would not be aware of it.”

Eisenhower Park on Long Island, which will become a T20 World Cup venueEisenhower Park on Long Island, which will become a T20 World Cup venue

Eisenhower Park on Long Island, just outside New York City, was built for the 2024 World Cup – Getty Images/Yuki Iwamura

Sundaragopalan also lamented how ticket prices – which have cost hundreds of dollars for the matches in India – have deterred potentially curious new fans. “Not everyone will be able to afford this. Plus, the fact that they have to take the day off, travel from the city to Long Island to watch the game, is a tough sell. Newcomers who are intrigued by the tournament but don’t have the time or money to check it out won’t be able to watch it easily either. All matches are live on Willow TV, a specialist cricket channel.

Willow TV is believed to have well over a million subscribers: a microcosm of the interest in cricket that already exists in the US. Demographic changes mean that the number of Americans interested in cricket has skyrocketed. There are now approximately 6.5 million Americans who come from cricket-playing countries in South Asia – which account for the bulk of this figure – or from the Caribbean. The US is already an important market: broadcast rights for ICC events in the US are considered the fourth most lucrative in the world, after those for South Asia, England and Australia.

The American team is also stronger than ever before. Local players now benefit from playing in Major League Cricket, which was launched last year. The league’s investors, co-founded by The Times of India Group, include the CEO of Microsoft. ICC rules allow players to represent countries in which they have lived for three years.

Training of the US T20 cricket team in Dallas, TexasTraining of the US T20 cricket team in Dallas, Texas

The US National Cricket Team goes from strength to strength – Getty Images/Robert Cianflone

Corey Anderson, who played for New Zealand in the 2015 ODI World Cup final, and Harmeet Singh, a former India U-19 captain, will both play for the US in the World Cup. Two recent victories over Bangladesh underlined the US’s potential. By the end of the decade, the team could potentially be ranked tenth in the world in T20.

Joseph O’Neill wrote about the American dreams of cricket in his critically acclaimed novel The Netherlandspublished in 2008. He is now vice president of Staten Island Cricket Club.

“It’s difficult to say what lasting effect the World Cup will have on American cricket,” O’Neill said. “Serious grassroots investments need to be made to develop the game. That means real cricket fields – there isn’t one in or near New York – and ideally a collegiate level of the game. Fund scholarships, build cricket fields, give local and international students a way to develop their skills.” Yet there are no indications that the World Cup will lead to new investments in such basic services.

A senior cricket executive, previously involved in US cricket, draws an unflattering contrast between the grassroots work that accompanied the 1994 World Cup and this year’s T20 World Cup. The stadium in New York is a pop-up location and will be closed after the World Cup.

“I just don’t see this being something that is going to break the market like the FIFA World Cup did,” he said. “I use the analogy of the circus coming to town. You build it, everyone gets excited and you have India playing Pakistan – it’s amazing. And then you take the tent down, you take the ground down and it’s gone.

“I’m just not confident that there will be a lasting impact, which is kind of why you do things like this: to leave an impact in a new market. So you have to wonder what the legacy will be.”

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