March 23, 2014

Can T20 get America interested?

Cricket learned lessons from baseball in devising its shortest format. Can it use T20 to break into the home of baseball?

This week I've been driving to the Sydney Cricket Ground to work - not for an 11-a-side game but one played by teams of nine men.

The famous old cricket ground has been transformed into a baseball diamond, complete with dirt base paths and a pitcher's mound, to host a two-game series between US major league teams the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. This might seem like sacrilege on a ground that was home for many years to Don Bradman when he was the greatest batsman alive. However, it seems that this may not be the case, because back in 1932, when Bradman was touring North America, he met the equally famous George Herman "Babe" Ruth at another sporting cathedral, Yankee Stadium. During that meeting the Babe asked Bradman what impressed him about baseball and the Australian icon answered; "In two hours or so the match is finished. Each batter comes up four or five times. Each afternoon's play stands on its own. Yes, cricket could learn a lot from baseball… there is more snap and dash to baseball."

Well, some 70 years on, Bradman's wishes were granted. Cricket has learned a lot from baseball in devising a game that lasts around three hours; it's called T20.

At the same time as the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks are battling for supremacy at the SCG, many of the best cricketers are in Bangladesh, fighting for the right to be called World T20 champions. Already we've seen some upsets, and appropriately, one of cricket's great rivalries kicked off the main section of the draw, with India completing a comprehensive victory over Pakistan.

The rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in baseball is often compared to India's and Pakistan's intense battles with each other. The big difference being the cricket rivalry has survived wars and terrorist attacks and yet still creates enormous interest in the two countries.

Apart from the time it takes to play a T20 game, one of the big attractions is that it's more likely to involve upsets than the longer forms of the game. One team only needs to have an exceptionally good over, or the other a particularly bad one, and the complexion of the game can change dramatically. The minnows are more likely to mix it with the cricketing superpowers in the game's shortest version.

In addition to the requirement that it satisfy the needs of a fast-moving world, T20 also affords cricket its greatest opportunity to globalise. It's impossible to sell five-day matches to major markets like the USA, Europe, Japan, and the parts of Asia where cricket isn't a tradition. However, there is an opportunity to have those regions embrace a short version of the game, and this is where T20 can play a major role in the development of cricket.

So while India and Pakistan continue their rivalry and other heavyweights like Australia, England, West Indies, Sri Lanka and South Africa join in the fight for the silverware, it's interesting to witness the development of Associate nations like the Netherlands, Ireland, Nepal and Afghanistan as they scrap for relevance in world cricket.

The one name missing from that list of Associate nations battling to mix it with the big boys is the USA. Their progress has been slowed by infighting amongst the various groups in their administration, but maybe the emergence of the fledgling but innovative American Cricket Federation will finally get the game in the USA on track.

There's no doubt that cricket's hierarchy would love nothing better than to welcome the USA into the main draw of a World T20 tournament. If that does eventuate, cricket fans could witness the reverse of the amazing transformation that the SCG has undergone, at one of the legendary homes of baseball, like Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on March 27, 2014, 11:30 GMT

    Ian - Whew! On the one hand Chappelli preaches "Drop a format, or restrict T20": he fears the rapid expansion of T20 exposes the game's "huge dependence on India's financial clout". And now Ian wants to expand T20 globally: no qualms as he flips over to welcome mighty USA & oodles of its green dough. Whew! But why USA? Why not Canada? Canada beat USA in 1844 in the first ever international cricket match. In the late 1990s, the Toronto Cricket, Skating & Curling Club hosted over 20 official ODIs - incl 15 Ind-Pak "friendship" matches. WI also played Ind & Pak there. Cricket is also played at the popular Rogers Centre (SkyDome) - home of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. Contrasting Canada's active role as an Associate, it's hard to see any "amazing transformation" in USA anytime soon. Recall that in Bradman's 1932 "honeymoon" tour of USA-Canada, the Babe told off The Don: "You mean to tell me you don't have to run when you hit the ball?" No meeting of the minds. True even today!

  • Jay on March 27, 2014, 1:38 GMT

    If Chappelli is really serious about T20 as the "greatest opportunity to globalise", then he must walk the talk: Why not become ICC's Global Ambassador? There are two paths to take: First - Commonwealth Games. It's a golden opportunity: 2018 CWG is in Gold Coast, right in Ian's backyard! Good opportunity too to get Zimbabwe & Eire back into the CWG family. Second - Olympics. It's the next natural event after CWG. The doors would open up to nations around the world. As an equal opportunity, it would welcome not only the "big boys" of America but also the "small guys" from Afghanistan, Nepal, etc. Note that cricket's been tried before at both CWG (Malaysia,1998) & Olympics (France,1900). But that was before T20, so they failed. Now here's what needs to happen: CA & ECB must take the lead; BCCI must be convinced; ICC must deal. The Global Ambassador's work is ideally cut out for Chappelli. It surely would be more rewarding than covering baseball games & hot dogs at SCG. Right, Ian?

  • ESPN on March 26, 2014, 7:55 GMT

    Ashok16 made a great point about subtlety. Baseball is a game that appears simple but is in actual fact incredibly nuanced - this is something I've come to realise after watching the last 3 MLB seasons (I'm a Kiwi cricket lover). T20, in its current guise, lacks the cut and thrust of repeated innings that is a great river of strategy and nuance. I'd love to see a version of the game that had 2 innings of 10 overs each (I remember watching one at Cardiff in the early 2000s). Perhaps that game would have a chance of taking hold in the States. It is, after all, a place that loves a story of redemption and recovery from failure, something baseball offers repeatedly, but one innings cricket doesn't.

  • Scott on March 26, 2014, 2:19 GMT

    T20 is more entertaining than baseball.

    T20 Cricket gives the viewer more action for their buck than baseball,

    For example:

    baseball can go something like this: fowl ball, fowl ball, ball, strike, hit....out.

    T20 gives the viewer 360 degrees of hitting space of which they can sit anywhere in the oval to see the action: 6 balls goes something like this; 6, dot ball, 2, dot ball, 4, 1.

    The intensity of T20 keeps the viewer on edge the whole game.

    It is a very marketable product for attracting different audience types. I mean have a look at the NBA, you don't even have to be a basketball fan to see how interesting is.

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2014, 8:53 GMT

    Ice hockey seens expection to norm,nice sport to watch fast,brutal I wish I could have played it problem we don't have much snow in africa to ignite interest in cold weather sports. With that been said I would really love to see the usa inn cricket they also seem to be bulish, aggresive, attacking when it comes to sport much like the aus. Throwin a spanner in the works may prove interesting in the icc and even rugby where only the tri-nation countries dominant irb ranking with the eng takin 3rd spot when one of nz,sa,aus are havin a bad run

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2014, 8:36 GMT

    I'm saf, cricket is too complex for us public to consume, there are too many factors & techinques that have to be considered for their sporting minds to comprehend: pitch condition,coin toss,in & out swinger, reverse swing,seamj bowling, cross seam,leg cutter,leg spin,off spin,googly,doorsa,the batting techinques,cricket shots,fielding positions and with modern cricket more invention to the slingers,ramp shot etc is only going to get more complicated for americans to appreciate the gentlemens game. Just look at popular sport in the us baseball is one-dimensional throw,hit okay maybe that simplistic, and the start and stop called football not a bad game but when compared to rugby it look a bunch of overly padded guy running to touchline every five min going through text books hopin to find what to do next, basketball not so bad I feel court too small and players too for games to be strategic. Ice hockey seens expection to norm,nice sport to watch fast,

  • ESPN on March 25, 2014, 8:21 GMT

    The ICC and the major cricketing bodies around the world have a terrible record capitalising on established markets let alone new geographies around the world. Look how many years it took the IPL to even come on the radar and that was only because of Zee TVs ICL giving things a push. In England which is touted as one of the "Big 3"', cricket is pretty much a minority sport. Apart from core cricket enthusiasts, does anybody know the world t20 is going on? Most people don't even remember England once were t20 champions. FIFA and the IRB( rugby) have a much better record in spreading their respective sports around the globe. Look at the approach of the 2015 wc, in that the ICC wanted to restrict the tournament to the core cricketing playing nations. Cricket administrators need to sort themselves out in places cricket is already "popular", otherwise in twenty years from now the sport won't exist to export to other markets.

  • Richard on March 25, 2014, 5:10 GMT

    I feel genuine pride and happiness to see Americans enjoying cricket. If it were not for America and their turning back the Japanese advance in the Coral Sea, the memory of Sir Donald Bradman may well be long gone. Thank you America. The very essence of my being as an Australian is the legacy of Sir Donald. With resolute hope I will see it continue on through the future generations, properly understood and recognised not only in Australia but worldwide. His record will never be beaten. No sportsman has or ever will dominate a sporting contest on the world stage like The Don. I was delighted to see Ian Chappell explain it to the American people watching the LA Dodgers vs the Arizona D'Backs at the SCG last week. I hope it was well received. The one fear I have is if Test cricket dies then so too does a part of The Don. I hope that day never comes. For things to stay the same, things must change and I hope beyond all hope America, through T20, can save us once again.

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2014, 1:45 GMT

    If it is going to succeed in the USA, it would have to take root in Florida and spread across the USA from there.

  • Rod on March 25, 2014, 1:35 GMT

    I'm an Englishman who's lived in the US for 37 years and during that time (well, recently really), I've tried to explain cricket to some friends who are American sports fans, and I've even been able to get them to watch a bit. I think some things intrigue them: the fact that fielders still field brilliantly without wearing gloves; the variety of shots (360 degree field) compared to baseball. However, there sre other things they find off-putting or incomprehensible: the fact (T20) that there is only one innings per side, and hence no back and forth; the fact you don't have to run when you hit the ball; the impression that the players for the most part don't really look like the American ideal of an "athlete" (outstanding physical ability rather than subtle skills).

    I'll be interested to see whether the new facilities in Indianapolis (just up the road from me) make any difference or whether they'll just host matches for immigrants from the current cricket-playing countries.