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Cricket's revival in the USA: Will T20 World Cup 2024 win hearts in baseball-loving America?

Cricket, once a beloved pastime in the United States during the mid-1800s, is making a grand return to North American shores through the T20 World Cup 2024. The big question looms: Can it capture the attention of a local audience largely unfamiliar with the sport?

Cricket revival in the USA: Will T20 World Cup 2024 make inroads in baseball-dominant America snt
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First Published May 27, 2024, 9:09 PM IST

Cricket, once a beloved pastime in the United States during the mid-1800s, is making a grand return to North American shores through the T20 World Cup 2024. The big question looms: Can it capture the attention of a local audience largely unfamiliar with the sport?

Globally, India drives much of cricket's popularity, but the International Cricket Council (ICC) sees enormous potential in the American market. They claim there are already 30 million fans of the game in the vast country.

The T20 World Cup 2024 is not only a thrilling event but also a crucial stepping stone towards cricket's reintroduction to the Olympics. In 2028, when the grand event kicks off in Los Angeles, cricket will make a historic comeback after 128 years.

Sixteen games are slated across three venues—New York, Dallas, and Lauderhill—with the majority of 55 matches set to unfold in the Caribbean, including the knockout rounds.

On the third day of the competition, New York will witness a clash between South Africa and Sri Lanka, echoing the historic significance of the city where the first-ever international cricket game took place in 1844 between USA and Canada.

During this era, cricket flourished across America until the Civil War in the 1860s, when the faster-paced alternative of baseball surged in popularity.

"T20 it's entertainment and that's what people look for. That's what Americans look for, you know, they want entertainment," the legendary West Indian cricketer, Brian Lara, was quoted as saying in a PTI report.

Despite being one of the most recognizable figures in the cricketing world, Lara humbly admits that he could stroll around Miami without drawing a second glance.

"You know, you speak to an American and I've done that many times and they'd say 'you play a game for five days and then you end up in a draw? What's that all about?' So it's, it is difficult," Lara explained.

However, Lara remains hopeful that the shortest format, T20 cricket, could find favor among American audiences.

A mere couple of weeks of international cricket in a foreign land won't suffice to spark enduring interest among the local audience. To ensure cricket's growth beyond the South Asian and Caribbean expat communities, stakeholders must commit to a longer-term strategy.

For newcomers, cricket can seem dauntingly complex, especially with terms like "third man," "fine leg," or "deep mid-wicket" used to describe various field placements.

The ICC is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to engage the American audience. This includes securing the involvement of eight-time Olympic gold medalist sprinter Usain Bolt as the World Cup ambassador and promoting the event at recent Formula 1 races in Miami.

To divert attention from the dominant sports like baseball, NFL, and NBA, cricket must establish roots at the grassroots level and actively engage with local communities.

"I surely think the game can grow in the USA. When you have presence in a country people start gravitating towards it and want to know more about," Bolt, who belongs to the cricket-loving Caribbean, told PTI in a recent interview.

Americans have a compelling reason to tune into the event: their team, predominantly composed of players from South Asian and Caribbean backgrounds, will be making its World Cup debut.

Venu Pisike, the head of USA Cricket, believes that the ICC event will generate crucial awareness about the sport. However, he emphasizes that it's the prospect of participating in the 2028 Olympics that will truly captivate the masses and drive interest in cricket.

"So far, cricket is predominantly an expats' game, but with the marketing and promotion activities during the World Cup, there is some momentum and the World Cup will definitely boost the opportunities to expand the game in the USA," Pisike was quoted as saying in the report.

"Definitely, the World Cup is bringing a lot of awareness and then the opportunity for cricket to be in the Olympics, that will definitely attract the community because the US is a huge sports country. Olympics is the prime area where all the sports bodies are focusing on since cricket is going to Olympics, that will actually give more opportunities to expand the sport between the World Cup and the Olympics," added Pisike.

Nisarg Patel, a member of the USA squad and originally from India, highlights a critical aspect of the team composition for the tournament. He notes that the current makeup of the squad consists largely of semi-professional players who rely on full-time jobs to support their families. Patel suggests that for cricket to appeal to a broader audience in America, this dynamic will need to evolve.

"Ultimately what needs to change in the USA is that an American kid in a high school needs to see a future in the game. There are so many sports in America, the country is built on Olympic medals. For cricket to succeed, we need to show them there is a career out of playing cricket," said the spinner, who works full-time with a medical research company in Los Angeles.

The launch of Major League Cricket last year marked a significant milestone as the sport's inaugural professional league in the United States. However, amidst a crowded and well-established sporting landscape, capturing the imagination of the American public poses a monumental challenge for the ICC and other stakeholders.

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