USA professional league launched June 8, 2004

A brave new world

Wisden Cricinfo staff

Baseball: no need for concern at the moment © Getty Images
Soccer has tried over a number of years to crack the American market with mixed success. Even the staging of 1994 World Cup - the second biggest global sporting event after the Olympics - failed to properly light the flame. By and large, soccer continues to be seen as a sport for girls and school kids.

The lure of the potentially massive US market also appeals to the International Cricket Council. Like its soccer counterparts, it is also hoping that staging World Cup matches (as many as six games in the 2007 tournament could be hosted on the US mainland) will kick-start interest.

In the USA itself, there are plans afoot to launch a professional circuit - last week, American Professional Cricket (APC) unveiled an eight-team league, and already it has signed up some high-profile names. Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul of the West Indies, India's Dinesh Mongia and Parthiv Patel, and Lance Klusener from South Africa are among those reported to be confirmed. Although the organisers insist that this is not hype, there have to be some reservations about their participation given their other commitments. For their part, Middlesex CCC and Klusener's English agent knew nothing about the story. And it was noticeable that the players' names were removed from the official website in the days following the launch.

The format of the matches will be based on the Twenty20 games which were so successful in England last season. With a duration of around three hours and fairly intense action (well, intense by cricket's standards) it is hoped that the traditional objections to the game can be overcome.

But the organisers face a hard sell. There is a small existing market in the US, almost entirely consisting of expats from southern Asia and the Caribbean. But they face having to overcome deep-rooted and stereotypical preconceptions about cricket among the population as a whole - mostly based on ignorance - which sees it as a game which barely moves, a throwback to the colonial days of the British empire and cucumber sandwiches.

Crucially, the APC claims that it has signed a major television deal which will bring in some revenue but, more importantly, will give the league a much bigger profile, especially if as is rumoured, the coverage is not on pay-per-view channels.

One of the things that undermined the formation of soccer leagues was cash - most of the teams went broke. The APC franchises are believed to be offering salaries of up to US$60,000 to leading players. If that is the case, then there must be some major sponsorship deals in the pipeline.

But there is a desire to try and get the indigenous population interested. Franchises cannot stuff their teams with mercenaries from abroad - league rules limit each side to five imports - and it is the hope that as more people begin to show an interest, the more will start playing.

The MLB commissioners are hardly going to be quaking in their boots at the establishment of APC. In fact, they probably remain blissfully unaware of its existence, so minimal was the coverage in the domestic media of last week's launch. But the first serious attempt to promote and establish cricket in the US since before the First World War can only be a good thing, and it deserves to get the support such a bold initiative deserves.

The matches start on June 18 with a game in Florida, and there are games on the following two days in New York and Washington.