Why the USA hosting the ICC T20 World Cup is a big deal

ICC T20 World Cup in USA
ICC T20 World Cup in USA (PC: Debasis Sen & X)

America, the land of milk and honey. This is a very old phrase, which applies to the United States of America (USA), a real sporting powerhouse in every sense. The USA has been top of the pecking order at the Summer Olympics for decades. Historically viewed, the fight between the USA and the erstwhile USSR – now broken up into several nations, post Glasnost and Perestroika – was fascinating.

Times have changed, but the USA still continues to dominate the field of play in every sense. The traditional sports at home are basketball, defined by a robust league (NBA), the NFL (American Football), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL) and NASCAR – with far more viewership than Formula One. Amid all this, the USA has made a paradigm shift as well, away from the blue-riband track and field. This includes football, as Asia, Europe and South America know it, and even field hockey, where the Americans have been spending big money to get a team together.

The prize money in those traditional sports is unparalleled, but for a country which believes more in swinging the baseball bat than its cricket equivalent, the manner in which the ICC T20 World Cup has been embraced has been captivating. For the common man sitting on a sofa or charpoy in Asia, the USA hosting the T20 World Cup may have initially seemed bizarre.

But the way T20 cricket has exploded, threatening the very existence of the Test format and ODIs, the format making its international debut in New York is no surprise. After all, the USA has already taken up Major League Cricket (MLC). If some thought this was a marketing gimmick, they have been proved wrong.

To be sure, when the International Cricket Council (ICC) awarded the 2024 World Cup hosting rights to the USA and West Indies, there were market forces at play. Those who think merely hosting a World Cup in the T20 format will make cricket big in the USA are wrong. The NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL traditions will not give way so easily. Nor will Americans readily accept T20 as an integral part of their sporting lives.

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It is well known that cricket is played primarily by South Asians on the east and west coasts of the USA. For those not aware, despite the harsh weather conditions in winter, the outskirts of Boston has an indoor cricket facility where locals play. There is a club culture there, where Indians and Pakistanis play together. There is no rivalry and hatred in these clubs. It is a clear sign that cricket, which is almost a religion in the subcontinent, has made its way into some American households.

Be sure, despite the biggest purse in history – the equivalent of $11.25 million – the ICC is not trying to change the way sports is consumed in the USA. For maybe another five years or even more, TV will continue to beam more images of NBA stars, the NFL and NHL. How and when cricket catches up is not important, for the same sport has been accepted in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics programme as well.

It is well known that traditional sports in the Summer Olympics have also needed to reinvent the wheel. Formats are changing in sport like basketball, with a conscious effort to make the viewing experience quicker. And, of course, the importance of gender equality, stressed on by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), can’t be understated.

That T20 cricket will offer Olympic medals is a clear sign the ICC has worked hard with the bosses of the LA 2028 programme and the IOC to merit inclusion. And for all those who think Virat Kohli is past his prime, he is a brand ambassador of sorts for the cricket in LA.

Back to New York, specifically the Nassau County Stadium, and tickets for the India and Pakistan matches have been grabbed like burgers and hot dogs. Black market ticket prices are soaring, as NRIs and other expatriate south Asians lap up the action. Last but not least, the USA putting together a cricket team capable of playing the big tournaments cannot be ignored.

If you still think a cricket World Cup in the USA is a gimmick, it’s time for a reality check.

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