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Sports: Cricket Has Finally Arrived in America!

By Lavina Melwani Email By Lavina Melwani
July 2024
Sports: Cricket Has Finally Arrived in America!

With the American team’s debut in international cricket and its recordbreaking performance—qualifying for the Super Eight in its very first ICC World Cup tournament—the game is decidedly on a path to amass fame and fortune in this land of baseball.

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When Sudhir Jaiswal from Calcutta arrived in New York in 1964 as an immigrant, he found his new country barren of cricket, the game he had grown up playing and loving. Before immigrating to the States, he had been the captain of the Benares Hindu University cricket team. Just when Jaiswal had become resigned to take up baseball, he happened upon a cricket team in the Bronx, where he soon became the only Indian among all West Indian players.

Sports_3_07_24.jpgIn the years following, he and other Indian immigrants played cricket with their children and friends in the public parks of Long Island. Despite the slowly growing numbers, the game remained very much a mom-andpop enterprise. 

[Left] Team USA set a new record by qualifying for the Super Eight in its very first appearance in international cricket. (Source: USA Cricket) 

Cut to the 2020s, and we now have a national federation of cricket (USA Cricket) recognized by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and more than 400 local leagues, tournaments, academies, and college and school programs dedicated to the game. In the summer of 2023, history was made with the launch of Major League Cricket (MLC), the nation’s first professional T20 league. The New York team (MINY) claimed victory in the inaugural 2023 MLC season, defeating the Seattle Orcas in the final held at Grand Prairie Stadium in July of 2023. The six founding MLC teams— Los Angeles Knight Riders, MI New York, San Francisco Unicorns, Seattle Orcas, Texas Super Kings, and Washington Freedom—will again participate in the 2024 competition.

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[Right] The game’s biggest rivalry comes to America: more than 35,000 fans packed the makeshift stadium in Long Island, New York for the much-anticipated India-Pakistan game. (Source: USA Cricket)

What etches 2024 in the annals of American cricket as a historic year are two major milestones: the USA not only debuted in the ICC T20 World Cup but also co-hosted it (with the West Indies) for the very first time. Many of the 55 matches in this World Cup were played at three stadiums in the U.S.—in Lauderhill, Florida; Nassau County, New York; and Dallas, Texas. The remaining matches were spread apart within six nations in the West Indies: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Guyana; Saint Lucia; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and Trinidad and Tobago. By the time you read this article in our July issue, the Cup would have just gotten over, with the final having taken place at the Kensington Oval in Barbados on June 29.

Team USA’s memorable debut in international cricket

The USA Cricket team has had a dream start as a debutante contender. First, in what took the cricketing world by surprise, it beat Pakistan, which, notwithstanding its recent lackluster performances, is no pushover in the world of international limited-over tournaments. Then, when USA’s sensational bowler Saurabh Netravalkar, dismissed the mighty Virat Kohli for a rare golden duck in its very first over, and team USA followed it up by reducing India to 39 for 3 at the 8th over mark, it seemed like the David of the cricketing world was set to pull another, even bigger upset, by troubling India, the Goliath of the game.

The famed Indo-Pak rivalry on American shores

The prospect of seeing India and Pakistan battling it out on a cricket ground is often a bigger game for the millions of fans of both countries than even the World Cup final. One of the most spirited rivalries in the sporting world, this duel triggers the inner cricket fanatic of fans from both sides. With the famed rivalry playing out in America this time, the Sports_5_07_24.jpgSouth Asian immigrants here packed the makeshift stadium in Long Island, New York, to the brim. Despite ticket prices being as stratospheric as thousands of dollars, fans were scrambling to get their hands on them, with only the very few lucky ones scoring them.

[Left] MTA, the transit authority of New York City, wrote on its social media pages, “The atmosphere at Westbury Station was electrifying as thousands of cricket fans made their way to Eisenhower Park Stadium for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.” (Source: USA Cricket)

Indiaspora, a leading community engagement forum, packed a bus with about 100 guests, that included the Who’s Who of the Indian American community, such as former Pepsi chief Indra Nooyi, who is now also the first independent female director of ICC. As hundreds and hundreds of fans came from Manhattan, the MTA, the transit authority of New York City, also got into swing to cater to this mass exodus into Long Island. It wrote on its social media pages, “The atmosphere at Westbury Station was electrifying as thousands of cricket fans made their way to Eisenhower Park Stadium for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.” Meanwhile, an eye-catching ad showed the Statue of Liberty playing the bhangra dhol in the Nassau stadium—go Team America!

Fueled by diaspora communities from cricket-playing nations

The Queens United Cricket Academy (QUCA) is one of the largest academies teaching cricket to young boys and girls. Four QUCA players bowled in the nets for the T20 World Cup touring teams: Harsha Bharadwaj, Rahi Bhatia, Sahir Bhatia, and Abdur Rehman. Says George Samuel, Director of QUCA, “They had an incredible learning experience bowling to top international players.”

Samuel believes cricket will take 10 to 15 years to seep into the radar of regular Americans who have not yet been exposed to it. Currently, only people from South Asian countries or the Commonwealth are passionate about the game.

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The USA versus India match tested the loyalties of many Indian American fans! (Source: USA Cricket)

For the second generation of South Asian Americans who have not grown up with cricket and tend to play baseball and soccer, the inaugural T20 tournament on American shores was an eye-opening experience. DJ Shahrukh, who was one of the volunteers for the big match, recalls the excitement of getting to carry the bags of the Indian team! He is a player in the Commonwealth Cricket League and has played cricket all his life, but he says his kids in America would rather play soccer. He feels once cricket is taught in schools like an American sport, children will want to play it because their friends and peers will be playing it.

The reason cricket is succeeding in this country—both audience-wise and financially—is because of immigration. Over the years, the South Asian population has burgeoned, and they have brought their love of cricket with them. This South Asian population— academics, corporate heads, doctors to all of America—and yes, often cabbies—are passing on their passion for the game to whoever they meet. Corporate heads also have much power—Major League Cricket was launched with $120 million from many Indian American investors, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Sports_8_07_24.jpgThe US Cricket team is a stronghold, a union of the best players from many cricketing countries. Oliver Wiseman wrote in the Free Press about Major League Cricket, “It has six teams and has lured some talented overseas players, like Andre Russell, a power-hitting Jamaican with a bleached blond mohawk; the Trinidadian cricketer-turned-pop star Dwayne Bravo; and Rashid Khan—the face of the remarkable rise of cricket in Afghanistan. In its biggest coup yet, the league announced this week that Pat Cummins—captain of the Australian cricket team and one of the most prominent names in international cricket—has signed a deal to play for the San Francisco Unicorns in the month-long tournament through 2028.”

“America loves winners,” writes Cameron Ponsonby, “but largely, America doesn’t know it currently has one in its cricket team. Through Major League Cricket and the national side, they have the money and the quality to look after the short term of the game. And in growing diasporas, such as the Nepali community that saw 5,500 people turn up to the middle of Texas to watch their match against the Netherlands, they have a genuine interest and passion for looking after it in the long term.

Far from just having the opportunity to grow the game, American cricket has a responsibility to do so because if they get it right, this fairytale is only just beginning.”

And that is good news for cricket lovers in America.


Lavina Melwani is a New York-based writer for several international publications and blogs at Lassi with Lavina.

 


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