RYAN BYRNE – Invented nearly one thousand years ago and spread around the world by English colonists, cricket is one of the most popular sports globally. From England to Australia, Afghanistan to India, the sport is played, watched and loved by millions. While cricket has a massive following, especially in Asia, it has had trouble gaining a foothold in one of the most sports-obsessed nations in the world: the United States. Major League cricket is trying to change that.
Founded in 2019, Major League Cricket aims to bring the sport to an American fan base. Utilizing the shortened Twenty20 or T20 format (where there are just 20 overs, a set of 6 legal deliveries, in each side’s innings which lasts close to three hours, as opposed to other forms which can last several days) the new league will look to make its presence felt in a nation dominated by the MLB, NHL, NFL and NBA.
The league, a partnership between USA Cricket and American Cricket Enterprises, has received backing from many Indian and Indian-American heavyweights. One of the founders of American Cricket Enterprises, for example, is Vineet Jain, a principal of the Indian media conglomerate The Times Group. Others include: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, One97 Communications CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma and many more who were announced in the initial round of investors in the league. Even Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan has invested in the league. The Knight Riders Group, of which Khan is part-owner, has also reportedly agreed to invest in the development of a new cricket stadium in Irvine, California, just south of Los Angeles.
Though the league has been forced to push back its inaugural season from 2021 to 2023, the expansion of cricket in the United States has found early success. In 2021, Minor League Cricket (also a partnership between American Cricket Enterprises and USA Cricket) began its first season of play in the United States. The league’s more than 20 teams, spread across the United States, have attached premier talent, including: the former captain of India’s Under 19 team Unmukt Chand, Indian batsman Milind Kumar, Sri Lankan all-rounder Shehan Jayasuriya and Pakistani all-rounder Hammad Azam. In addition, this past summer Major League Cricket began redeveloping a baseball stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas, into a cricket stadium.
The League’s choice to build a stadium in Grand Prairie appears to be targeted at a very specific audience. The Washington Post reports that cricket is growing in popularity among the children of South Asian immigrants, especially in and around Dallas. Indeed, Major League Cricket is hoping to appeal to large immigrant communities across the United States, in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey and San Francisco, which continue to host avid fans of the sport. For example, in 2015, a series of matches were played in New York, Los Angeles and Houston. At a match hosted at Citi Field in New York, thousands of the city’s immigrant population flocked to see teams of cricket legends battle it out.
While cricket remains popular in many Asian immigrant communities, though, it has yet to gain popularity in the United States that would rival that of India or Pakistan. Given the current trend toward foreign investment and players, though, it is conceivable that the US will come to rival those countries in 5 or 6 years’ time.