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Cricket making historic US debut in World Cup

The United States will step into sporting history on June 1 by co-hosting a major cricket tournament for the first time.

30 May 2024
30 May 2024

The United States will step into sporting history on June 1 by co-hosting a major cricket tournament for the first time.

The opening game in Dallas, Texas, between the U.S. and Canada will start the monthlong ICC Men's T20 World Cup, which will be co-hosted by the West Indies.

The U.S. was an unlikely choice to co-host a cricket World Cup, as not many beyond the expatriates in America play or follow the game. Cricket, invented by the British in the 17th century, is hugely popular in its former colonies, from the Caribbean to South Asia to Australia.

The decision to choose the U.S. as a co-host was no doubt driven by a desire to improve revenue-earning for the game. North America is one of the biggest sports markets in the world.

Now the game's governing body, the International Cricket Council, aims to break into this huge sports market, estimated by Statista in 2023 to be worth $83 billion.

"The fact that a World Cup has come to the U.S. - the largest sports market in the world - that, in itself, has generated a lot of interest," Chris Tetley, the ICC's head of events, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.

FILE - Sachin's Blaters batsman Curtly Ambrose plays a shot off Warne's Warriors bowler Wasim Akram during the first of a three-match T20 series at the Citi Field in New York on Nov. 7, 2015.
FILE – Sachin’s Blaters batsman Curtly Ambrose plays a shot off Warne’s Warriors bowler Wasim Akram during the first of a three-match T20 series at the Citi Field in New York on Nov. 7, 2015.

The ICC has also drafted several former giants of the game such as Curtly Ambrose of the West Indies, to promote the cause of cricket in the U.S. Ambrose, who was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in 2011, thinks the World Cup will be a success.

"Cricket in America could make a big difference, especially the T20 format, because we know Americans want everything to finish in quick time," Ambrose told reporters at New York's Nassau County Stadium.

In this format of cricket, each team faces 20 overs [120 balls], and a match is usually finished in four hours. There is also a great deal of music and cheerleader-style dancing during the matches.

The ICC also took a long-term view, looking ahead to the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, when awarding the T20 World Cup to the U.S. The T20 format of cricket will feature as one of five new sports at the L.A. Games.

"This is a key stepping stone for the promotion of the game towards 2028 and beyond in terms of providing world-class cricket for the massive existing fan base that the sport already [has] in the U.S.," Tetley said.

The presence of a large, cricket-crazy South Asian diaspora, mostly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, undoubtedly convinced the ICC that taking the game to the U.S. would be a success.

According to U.S. Census data and the South Asia-focused publication SAALT, between 5.5 and 6 million Americans of South Asian heritage live in the United States. They are mostly concentrated in a few states, with California, New York, Texas and Illinois leading the way. Michigan is not far behind.

The “existing fan base" in the U.S. that Tetley referred to is largely made up of immigrants from the six South Asian countries that are represented among the 20 nations taking part in the tournament. The impact of the nearly 6 million Americans of South Asian origin can already be seen from ticket sales.

Tickets for the much-anticipated clash between bitter rivals India and Pakistan on June 9 in New York sold out within hours of going on sale. Matches involving other South Asian countries have either sold out, or only the highest-priced tickets remained.

In the first phase of the tournament, 16 out of 40 matches will be played in three U.S. cities - at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York, the Broward County Stadium in Lauderhill, and the Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium in Dallas.

The remaining matches, including the second phase and semifinals, will be staged in the Caribbean, with the final match of the world cup scheduled to be played in the Kensington Oval stadium located in Bridgetown, Barbados.

"It's pretty surreal, to be honest. But it's hugely exciting not just for myself but for the USA team and cricket globally," said New Zealand-born Corey Anderson, who once played for the Kiwis but is now a leading member of the USA team. "It's obviously one of the biggest events in the world and another stepping stone for the U.S. to keep growing cricket."

The hosting of the World Cup is expected to stimulate domestic interest in cricket in the same way the 1994 FIFA World Cup gave soccer a boost in the U.S. America is already avid about baseball, a game where a ball is hit by a bat. The T20 version of cricket has the potential to gain a similar following.

Peter Della Penna, the U.S. correspondent for ESPNcricinfo, says cricket makes people have fun.

"I've never met somebody who's come to a cricket match in person and not had fun and not walked away saying, 'I want to come back and see another match like this because I had a fun experience,'" he told VOA.

England and the West Indies have each won the T20 World Cup twice since its inauguration in 2007. India, which clinched the inaugural tournament, is currently ranked No. 1 in the world and considered one of the favorites.

Australia, which hosted the tournament in 2022, will be looking to add the T20 crown to the World Cups of two other formats of cricket they currently hold. Such a clean sweep of all three titles has not happened since the ICC launched the World Test Championship in 2019.

South Africa and New Zealand, two strong contenders in every format of cricket, have never won the T20 prize and are expected to mount a serious challenge for the title. But few will be writing off Pakistan, which has a habit of springing surprises.