May 23, 2010

Keep it short for the Yanks

If the game is ever to take off in America, Twenty20 is most likely the way to go

"I've been to two rodeos and three goat-ropings and I ain't seen nuthin' like this," was the reaction of an American baseball commentator when the Atlanta Braves recently mounted a freakish seven-run last-inning comeback. When Sri Lanka play New Zealand in Miami this weekend, the response from the Americans in the audience may be similar. On second thoughts, the bulk of the fans will probably be expats from the subcontinent or the Caribbean, so most of the comments will be well-informed.

However, if cricket is to become a viable sport in the USA, eventually the officials have to attract some genuine American fans. This is why the experiment this time, unlike those attempted in the past, is critical; the only way cricket is going to attract American fans in reasonable numbers is via the Twenty20 version of the game.

Past tours were all longer matches. In 1932 an Australian side toured America and Canada, and despite the presence of Don Bradman (who was on his honeymoon), the game failed to capture the imagination of the Yanks. There was a publicity shot involving Bradman and Babe Ruth, then a huge star with the Yankees, and the inevitable comparisons were made between the two kings of their sport but nothing came of it other than a nice memento for Bradman's mantelpiece.

There were also publicity shots taken at a film studio in Hollywood, but the British actors like Aubrey C Smith and Boris Karloff who figured in it were already cricket fans. I remember seeing photos from the tour, of stars like Jeanette McDonald and Jean Harlow. The photos were on my grandfather Vic Richardson's mantelpiece - he was the captain of the team.

Vic told a delightful story of a dinner party where Harlow kept referring to Margot Asquith (wife of British prime minister Herbert Asquith) as "Margot", pronouncing the "t". Margot finally had enough and said to her, "No, Jean, the 't' is silent, like in 'Harlow'".

Hopefully the crowd won't be quiet at Lauderhill, where the Twenty20 contests will take place. There were enough visitors from the USA during the World Twenty20 event just completed in the Caribbean to suggest there might be a reasonable crowd at Lauderhill. However, once again those tourists were mostly supporters of teams from the subcontinent.

There are American cricket fans but they are few and far between.

In 1973 the Australians were in the hotel bar in Kingston after the first day's play at Sabina Park when we heard this American drawl: "Rod Marsh and Ian Chappell. I never thought I'd meet you guys."

If cricket is to prosper and grow, the financial clout of India has to be diluted and forging a presence in the big-market regions is the only way that is going to happen

We asked the American what he was doing in Kingston and he replied: "My wife and I travel from Philadelphia every year to watch the Sabina Park Test.'' However, he said he wouldn't be attending the remainder of game because his wife felt threatened by the crowd. We asked if he'd change his mind if we could get him tickets for the members stand and he said yes. That's how there were two Americans in the Sabina Park crowd in 1973, barracking for Australia. That was a long time ago and since then I haven't met any American cricket fans.

Then there was the failed experiment in the 2004 Champions Trophy, when the USA was annihilated by New Zealand and Australia.

Twenty20 is the correct vehicle to promote the game and if they come up with the right formula, combining business and cricket administration in a franchise, they might just find a niche market. That's why the IPL needs to quickly sort out its problems so that the franchise model can eventually be exported to large markets like the USA, Europe and Japan. If cricket is to prosper and grow, the financial clout of India has to be diluted, and forging a presence in the big-market regions is the only way that is going to happen.

The last time I witnessed a cricket tournament in the USA, the contest between India A and Australia A was spoiled by a terrible pitch. Hopefully conditions this time will be more conducive to entertaining cricket. If the cricket isn't top-class, then in future Americans will be more likely to visit a rodeo or a goat-roping than attend another cricket match.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sohrab on May 26, 2010, 17:54 GMT

    Humans learn from past mistakes. ICC learnt it earlier by playing Aussie A against India A. It learnt that full international teams must play to promote the game. The decision was good but not as fruitful as expected. Two reasons 1) Improper promotion 2) Bad pitch and poor lighting facility. ICC had enough time to review these. Having said that I am optimistic that with proper planning and a clear vision USA can become a neutral venue (at least) like Sharjah has been for long.

  • James on May 25, 2010, 16:04 GMT

    I was there at the matches this weekend and the cricket was great. Americans like myself were few and far between, but I think it was a great start. Can't wait until next year.

  • Aditya on May 24, 2010, 23:33 GMT

    @lucyferr, you poor deluded soul. The USA is a melting pot, that means both cricket and baseball can be played side by side. Who can tell, perhaps 20 years down the line, integrating into the native community might mean playing cricket! And lets not talk about sophistication, please. In cricket, the ball bounces while being bowled to the batsman. The element of sophistication that is introduced by that far surpasses 'ooh, i can throw the ball to one of four places'. I also didn't know that wearing gloves four times larger than your hands to catch the ball required a higher average standard of fielding. And as regards to uncertainty, the sheer number of last over/last ball wins in cricket make your comment a joke. Yes, your post was flamebait, so here are the flames. And while I'm all for kids integrating into the mainstream, there's no reason they can't play cricket and do it.

  • Dummy4 on May 24, 2010, 21:37 GMT

    I flew in from Kentucky where I play club cricket to watch the matches. I am a white American that gave up baseball to learn cricket and I had a blast rooting on the teams and being able to watch the match live to catch the nuances that are missed watching in on TV. The only thing that truly lacked at the match was the actual publicity of the match, I drove around all over the area for the weekend and there was nothing to even tell that there was even matches going on unless you read a small part in the newspaper. Had USACA actually promoted the matches better there would have been bigger crowds and more people traveling in to see the match, that was the only draw back from an outstanding showing of what cricket can achieve in America. If they truly want to make this a success they need to bring in a tri-series with the likes of West Indies, India, Pakistan, England, Australia, Sri Lanka that have the drawing power to pack the stadium every match.

  • Hashaam on May 24, 2010, 19:43 GMT

    Flew in from Texas and there were quite a decent amount of other natural Americans there. Mr Chappell is a really nice and down to earth fellow, Im sure after this weekend he has met a lot more American cricket fans than the couple in Jamaica in the 70s.

  • Ken on May 24, 2010, 17:59 GMT

    I am an American from Georgia and I was at the match with two friends who had never seen a game of cricket played (it was my first live game). they are not rabid fans yet, I will probably be watching the Ashes alone again. I had a wonderful time. There needs to be a focused and intentional effort to teach Americans with the slightest interest how the game is played. Understanding a game automatically makes it more interesting. Someone in the Atlanta area taught the area P.E. teachers the basics so they could pass it on. More things like this need to become common to increase interest among Americans. I would also like to see those American companies that already sponsor cricket in other parts of the world step up and help expand an promote it in the U.S. an expat Indian will drink Coke and eat KFC as much as one who lives in India. I can't wait for the next match of this level. I plan on bringing more newbies!

  • M. Jordan on May 24, 2010, 17:30 GMT

    I flew in from Texas on Saturday just to catch the first ICC sanctioned Twenty20 match in the US. Imagine my surprise when I bumped into two other Texans watching the match. And we weren't even the most distant visitor - we met another gentlemen who flew in from San Francisco to be a part of the festivities.

    It took living in England for one summer - 2005 Ashes - for this Yank to become addicted to cricket. I've since seen at least one test match a year in England (mainly at Lords) and visited the 2007 World Cup in St. Lucia.

    The Ft. Lauderdale match reminded me a lot of the 2007 World Cup. It seemed homespun and marketed towards the expat crowd. Hey - that was their best bet to sell tickets. I wasn't impressed by the timing of the match but can understand why it had to happen that way. Pre - World Cup would have conflicted with the IPL.

  • Anand on May 24, 2010, 16:41 GMT

    @ Rooboy,

    I dont think vicky530x is in any doubt about Ian's point on taking the game to homegrown Americans. What he is referring to is the choice of words here- surely Ian means 'homegrown' or 'indigenous' and not 'genuine'? I can fully see such a choice of words making front page news here in the US and there's a reason. While it may only sound offensive to the pickyand insecure, it certainly doesnt resonate with the American spirit and America's own concept of a 'genuine' American...

  • Dummy4 on May 24, 2010, 13:22 GMT

    I attended the games this weekend and wish to congratulate the Sri Lankans on their turnout. We sat, sporting 'New Zealand' caps, in the middle of their stadium enclave, and were much impressed by the sportmanship. Many of the skills manifested by the players are so similar to baseball that Americans--true sportmen that we are--will have no difficulty loving this sport. How could any Yank not love the catch Nicol made yesterday, running to boundary, placing his feet perfectly, looking up into the sun, finding the ball, and, with outstretched limbs and great balance, saving the six...with bare hands! I feel we have a desperate need for cricket (and rugby) in the US, since all of our major sports have become over-specialized. Our football players train to run only in one direction! Our baseball pitchers are trained not to bat; certailnly not to stick out their precious hands to catch a 'liner' right back at them. I vote to give cricket a chance in the USA.

  • Aditya on May 24, 2010, 9:01 GMT

    I do not see a very large and varied audience of cricket, in the United States. We must remember, that cricket has been tried before, in the United States. Perhaps, the immigrants from cricket playing nations to the United States, may introduce other Americans to the sport. The Caribbean Islands, are not that far from the mainland of the United States. Cricket has to be encouraged at the school level, to make a lasting impression.

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