With its own Major League, cricket looks for a foothold in the USA
Published 10:21 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2023
The Associated Press
George Bernard Shaw asserted “the English are not very spiritual people so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity.”
It has been a long game, traditionally.
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While cricket has flourished in England and some of its former colonies, it has never taken off to the same degree in the United States, where some have perceived it as impenetrable.
A sport played in its purist form by players in long white uniforms, test cricket goes on for five days and still often ends with no winner, with days so long players twice have to leave the field for meals.
Major League Cricket, which begins on Thursday, could change that perception. For a start, the games only go for just over three hours.
MLC will comprise six teams, from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, New York and Washington, which will play a competition of 18 matches before the first final on July 30.
Teams will have a maximum of 19 and minimum of 16 players, combining international stars and home-grown players selected through a draft which was made when the league was launched, officially and metaphorically, at Space Center Houston. Each team was allowed to sign nine local players, one of which had to be under-23.
The salaries of international players will be drawn from an initial $120 million investment from corporate backers, mainly from India.
The teams will play Twenty20 style which might be portrayed as cricket with the dull bits removed. The format may be more appealing to the American sport palate because there is always a winner: if the teams are still tied after both innings — each comprising 20 six-ball overs — a tie-breaking “super over” is played to find the winner.
Most matches will be played at the Grand Prairie Stadium near Dallas, converted to a cricket stadium with 7,200 seats and a grass pitch. Other matches will be played at Church Street Park in Morrisville, North Carolina.
The league follows the model of professional Twenty20 — or more broadly known as T20 — leagues which already exist in places such as India, Australia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Caribbean, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and Canada. They’re all supported by a travelling troupe of international players — many of them T20 specialists — who give leagues marquee quality.
The most lucrative and glamorous of all these franchise competitions is the Indian Premier League, where the world’s best players are hired by teams owned by Bollywood stars, business giants and other celebrities. The gravitational pull of the IPL has reshaped cricket’s traditional schedules and made many new cricketing millionaires.
Major League Cricket inevitably will have some of the Indian Premier League glitz. Four of the six teams are owned and will be run by IPL franchises.
The Los Angeles Knight Riders will be run by the Knight Riders Group which operate the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. MI New York will be run by the Mumbai Indians, Texas Super Kings and the Seattle Orcas by the GMR Group which runs the Delhi Capitals.
Two of Australia’s provincial organizations — Cricket Victoria and Cricket New South Wales — will run the San Francisco Unicorns and Washington Freedom respectively.
Many of the biggest stars from India, Australia and England are involved in test series — more of those five-day matches — but MLC has attracted a strong contingent of seasoned T20 performers.
Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan co-owns the Knight Riders Group and has recruited West Indies stars Sunil Narine and Andre Russell, England’s Jason Roy, South Africa’s Rilee Rossouw, Australian Adam Zampa and New Zealanders Lockie Ferguson and Martin Guptill.
“We have assembled a strong and talented team for the debut season of MLC who can compete at the highest level and bring joy to cricket fans around the world,” Knight Riders Group chief executive Venky Mysore said.
The Texas Super Kings have hired South Africa’s Faf du Plessis as captain alongside international stars Ambati Rayudu, Devon Conway, Mitchell Santner, Dwayne Bravo, David Miller, Daniel Sams and Gerald Coetzee.
Chennai Super Kings chief executive K.S. Viswanathan said du Plessis “led the Joburg Super Kings at (the South African T20 league) from the front earlier this year and we’re confident of doing well under him in Texas.”
The West Indies and Mumbai Indians star Kieron Pollard will captain New York, which will have Robin Peterson as head coach and Lasith Malinga as bowling coach. Their signings include fast bowlers Trent Boult from New Zealand and Kagiso Rabada from South Africa.
Seattle has Australian star Mitch Marsh and South Africa’s Quinton de Kock.
MLC has broader ambitions, to build minor leagues in a bid to develop training and development facilities and support the U.S. national team.
Now it remains to be seen whether American fans will find Major League Cricket to their taste and make the league itself everlasting.