Cricket, big business in India, brings star power to US with world cup

Cricket, big business in India, brings star power to US with world cup

US cricket vice-captain Aaron Jones poses next to a giant cricket ball placed at a marketplace to mark the 100-day ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Miami, Florida, on February 22, 2024.

Chandan Khanna | Afp | Getty Images

A major cricket World Cup will be held on U.S. soil for the first time in June as the sport sets about planning its future in the United States

Cricket, a game similar to baseball, originated in England and has long been popular there. But the sport is booming in India, the world’s most populous country, as well as in several other former British colonies.

In the USA it is mainly immigrants and their children who enjoy cricket. But in 2023, the sport got a boost when Major League Cricket debuted in the US with six teams: the Los Angeles Knight Riders, MI New York, San Francisco Unicorns, Seattle Orcas, Texas Super Kings and Washington Freedom.

And now the United States men’s national cricket team will represent their home country at this year’s International Cricket Council Men’s T20 World Cup. Teams play in the Twenty20 or T20 format, the shortest and most popular form of the sport. While traditional cricket matches can last up to five days, a T20 match usually lasts around three hours.

This year’s World Cup is co-hosted by the United States and the West Indies and will take place at three U.S. stadiums – Texas, Florida and New York – as well as several locations in the West Indies.

“This is a historic opportunity for the USA,” said former ESPN cricket writer Peter Della Penna.

success in India

While it failed to make a breakthrough in the United States, cricket has enjoyed success in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies. But it has arguably made the biggest impact in India, where it is the most popular sport in a country of more than 1.4 billion people, according to research firm Statista.

Cricket is already big business in the Asian subcontinent. In 2022, they accounted for 85% of India’s national sports spending, according to ISPO, which organizes trade fairs for the sports industry.

And viewership continues to break records. Disney said Disney Star Network’s broadcast of the professional Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2023 reached a record 505 million viewers in India, becoming the first tournament to attract more than half a billion viewers.

According to Forbes, the average value of an IPL team is over $1 billion and investors are taking note. In June 2021, private equity firm RedBird acquired a 15% stake in IPL team Rajasthan Royals for $37.5 million.

A year later, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the country’s governing body for the sport, sold television and digital broadcast rights for a record $6.2 billion. According to BCCI honorary secretary Jay Shah, the IPL had the second highest per-game value for a sports league in the world after the NFL.

The World Cup duels in early June will bring some of that star power to the US, with high-profile competition between India and Pakistan culminating in a US-India match.

“[The U.S.-India] “The game is already sold out with 34,000 seats at the New York venue,” said Della Penna. “It just gives you a sense of the size of the opportunity.” [the U.S. is] “That will happen during the World Cup – with a television audience unprecedented for any game the US has ever been involved in before – considering the Indian market and other markets such as England or Australia.”

The ICC’s decision to host part of the World Cup in the US – and in particular the highly anticipated match between India and Pakistan – was a strategic move to capitalize on the country’s growth potential, according to USA Cricket. The United States will host the tournament a few years before the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Della Penna, who has been covering cricket for nearly two decades, also said the move was financially motivated.

“[The ICC] made sure to host the India-Pakistan game on US soil because they know a few million people live there [South Asian] Diaspora who are big cricket fans,” said Della Penna.

Cricketers Liam Plunkett (centre left) and Dwayne Bravo (centre right) pose for photographs with children during a media day to mark the 100 days remaining until the 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, co-hosted by the West Indies and the USA Times Square in New York City, February 22, 2024.

Mike Stobe | Icc | Getty Images

Tasmai Krishnan, a youth cricket enthusiast in India and host of the podcast “Cricstatic,” said the sport is an “integral part” of Indian culture. As new sports like pickleball become more popular, Tasmai said he hopes cricket will grow in the U.S. as well, and he is excited to see how the U.S. fits into the global cricket scene after the World Cup.

“From an Indian perspective, this opens up another field for cricket here because it opens up another country that will be a tough competitor in the future,” Tasmai said. “This is a great learning opportunity for the U.S. team, and the participation of a nation like the U.S. fills my heart with joy.”

“A dream come true”

The US-India game will provide an interesting balance for Indian Americans in deciding which country to cheer for, Della Penna said.

One of those people is George Samuel, a resident of Nassau County, New York, where some of the World Cup games will be held. Samuel is head coach and director of the Queens United Cricket Academy, which develops cricket skills for children and young people. Although he immigrated to the United States from India in 1987, he also coached cricket in England, Australia and South Africa. When he came to New York, he wanted to give up the sport.

“I was super excited,” he said, when he found out the World Cup would be in his backyard. “I never thought this would happen when I came to this country – it’s a dream come true.”

Samuel, who has already secured his tickets, said he believes this World Cup will be a launching pad for the rise of cricket in the US – but he is not rooting for either team in the final.

“I like watching good cricket. I have no loyalty. I want the USA to show good talent and I want to see that good bat and ball and a lot of sixes,” he said. A “sixer” is the cricket equivalent of a baseball home run.

Samuel’s teenage son Jeremy said that despite his family’s Indian roots, he is rooting for the US, the country where he was born, because he wants to play cricket professionally and for the US team.

Jeremy also has his tickets to the World Cup, along with his friends, none of whom have ever seen a major cricket match before.

“It’s really exciting to be able to see it here – it’s 15 minutes from my house,” he said. “It’s a big moment for us to finally see one. … It makes me happy because now more people know about cricket and are starting to play it.”

Others are more interested in supporting the Indian team against their traditional rivals.

California resident Mythili Sankaran, who said she has watched every match India has played in the last 25 years, said she is not even watching the USA-India match and is only traveling for the World Cup match between India and Pakistan to New York.

“Growing up in India with the Indian team, we were always the underdogs. Today, India is one of the most promising and strongest teams in world cricket, if not the most promising,” said Sankaran, who said she played cricket at the university level in India before immigrating to the US

“Seeing all these international stars, watching an India-Pakistan match in the US – I didn’t think I would be able to do this in my life,” she said. “I think the cricket audience in the US is maturing, largely thanks to Indian-Americans, and it’s about time.”

And ultimately, Sankaran said, she hopes the World Cup marks the beginning of a new era.

“I hope people can watch women’s cricket in the US too,” she said. “The US women’s cricket team is actually doing quite well, so I hope this brings a lot more attention and visibility.”

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2024-04-21 11:00:01