USA cricket August 23, 2012

Kumble spreads the word in New York

Anil Kumble believes T20 cricket can engage the American public, provided cricket administration in the USA can be streamlined

Throughout the 1990s, if someone shouted out "Jumbo!" in New York on a Sunday afternoon, it could only have been meant for John Elliott. The burly 6-foot 7-inch, 300-pound offensive lineman plied his trade plowing over defensive fronts for the NFL's Giants and Jets for 14 years, winning a Super Bowl with the Giants in the 1990 season.

On this day though, the streets of Madison Avenue are screaming "Jumbo!" for a different man, one who was a super bowler in his own right, burrowing through the defences of batsmen an Indian record 619 times in Test cricket. The chief guest at New York City's India Day Parade is Anil Kumble and the parade route is swarming with people waving Indian flags to celebrate India's independence and pay tribute to their hero.

"It's been fantastic," Kumble says of his visit to the city where he showed off the ICC World Twenty20 trophy to more than 100,000 people lining the sidewalks of the parade route. "It really goes to show the prominence of the Indian community in the United States and also the appreciation and affection that cricketers have in this country, more so because of the Indian population and the support the Indian community has in all businesses. In economy and knowledge, I think India has contributed a lot to the United States."

Two days earlier, Kumble was in Times Square to ring the closing bell at NASDAQ, the second time in recent months that cricket was making headlines in the US financial sector. In June, MS Dhoni landed at number 31 in Forbes Magazine's annual list of the highest paid athletes in the world with $26.5 million, the first time a cricketer has appeared in the top 50. Kumble says that in order for cricketers to continue to rise and sit alongside some of the names whose global popularity and sponsorships consistently place them in the top 10 like Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant and David Beckham, cricket needs to break into the US market in a big way.

"I think the easiest and the quickest way is if the United States takes up cricket," Kumble said. "That's the quickest way of seeing cricketers in the top 10. If cricket really flourishes in the United States, you don't have a better country to market a sport than is done here. I just recently went to a baseball game, the Yankees, and every second step you had to pay something or you would get attracted to something. I don't mind picking up that stuff. That's the way it's being marketed and I guess this is the right place for cricket. I'm sure it will happen.

"The first match happened between the United States and Canada so cricket started here. But then I guess the other sports have taken over in terms of prominence, television, sponsorship, marketing and everything else. It's only left to the expats. From whatever I gather from talking to various people, cricket is very fragmented in the United States. It needs to come under one umbrella and have a proper structure like other sports. T20 is probably the right format to start with. Once it comes under that umbrella and people start playing the sport in a competitive way across the nation then I think there will be a lot of interest. The only way you can develop any sport is if the local population picks up that sport and that's the challenge."

Kumble, who was elected president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association in 2010, says he entered Yankee Stadium to take in the experience more from an administrative mindset, taking notes on how things are done in New York with the goal in mind to help improve the stadium and fan experience at cricket grounds in India.

"Just from what I saw at the Yankees game, the entire spectator experience is what we need to take back in terms of the comfort level and the hospitality. The marketing part like I just mentioned, every step you take there is something new they'd like to sell the fans. There's a lot of merchandise and memorabilia for the fans which probably is something I'm sure will pick up in India as well in the cricketing scene because that's not there at the moment. It's not there in India in such a way where any store you walk in you can pick up whatever you want of your favorite player.

"I think you have some great stadiums in India as well. The new stadiums, especially the one in Pune is a beautiful stadium, the recently built Wankhede Stadium in Bombay, in Chennai they have remodeled the old stadium. All these new stadiums are really good. The challenge for us, yes we are now putting in permanent cushioned seats for the important prized tickets and there's hospitality in Bangalore. So that's something which we'll certainly do and you'll see a completely permanent seated facility in Bangalore very soon so the spectator will have a seat at any given point in time, a reserved seat. Here what was very prominent was that there was no obstruction. There were no pillars. It's an open stadium so you get the feel that you're actually very close to the action."

However, Kumble says the overall energy and excitment at cricket grounds in India, especially during Twenty20 matches, is second to none.

"Of course a cricket game is immense. If you come to an IPL game or a T20 or an international match in India, it's extremely noisy in India and I didn't see that noise level up other than maybe a couple of home runs and then suddenly everybody goes up. Otherwise in India for every four in a Twenty20, you get about five home runs in an over and if Chris Gayle is batting six home runs. There was no comparison in terms of the noise level inside the stadium but I certainly loved the stadium atmosphere at Yankee Stadium."

The ICC World Twenty20 is less than a month away and although this will be just the fourth edition since its inception in 2007, it has quickly turned into one of the premier events on the cricket calendar. Kumble doesn't think that fans should be worried about Twenty20 swallowing up Tests and ODIs, but believes that changes need to be made to keep all three formats healthy for the future.

"I strongly feel all three formats will be unique. Yes there will be certain modifications and a little bit of tweaking in all three formats because after a while even Twenty20 will get boring. I don't think it will throw Test cricket off the pedestal but Test cricket certainly needs to adapt and I feel going forward that day-night Test cricket is certainly on the cards and I'm sure it will happen in the next six to eight months, if not earlier. I'm sure it will happen.

"I can't really predict in 10 years what's going to happen because 10 years ago nobody thought that Twenty20 cricket would take over the world. Nobody predicted that there would be a threat from Twenty20 cricket to the other forms of cricket. I don't see it as a threat because the 50-over format is quite challenging as well. There is a chance for a bowler to make a mark and there is an opportunity for a batsman to build an innings as well in a 50-over format. In a Twenty20 it's not there but in Tests it's much longer. I think all three formats will survive."

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tim on August 24, 2012, 20:43 GMT

    Shea Stadium? Would be the same as the T20 they recently held at Rogers Centre in Toronto: few thousand ex-pats; 0 locals. Does NFL play in London just for the entertainment of American ex-pats? Any first class cricket match held in the USA shoul be for one and ONLY one purpose: taking the game to mainstream Americans. Ex-pats can take their vacations in India/Windies if they want to see cricket.

  • Dummy4 on August 24, 2012, 6:54 GMT

    @timmyj Agreed. I wonder what Cricket Holdings America (organizers of the upcoming T-20 league) is up to..haven't heard from them in a while.

  • Dummy4 on August 24, 2012, 6:51 GMT

    Hold an annual 8-team T-20 tournament, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and West Indies at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York (hotbed of cricket with huge fanbase of all 4 of these teams) and I'll guarantee you the games will average over 25,000 fans per game every year. Many ex-pat cricket fans are hungry for some top notch cricket on U.S. soil and are willing to pay $30 to $40 (equivalent to 1500 - 2,000 Indian Rupee) per ticket! There's a lot of money to be made from this market and a lot of new fans to be created, especially the children of cricket fans who would finally have the chance to experience this exciting sport and grow up as fans.

  • Abdul on August 24, 2012, 6:15 GMT

    The Indian fan following is used at the right place. Send more players in different parts of the world to promote T20 CRICKET at least. These countries won't be interested in tests or ODIs so better initiate with T20s. Make ICC World T20 tournament of 16 teams. These players will then get the chance to play T20 leagues around the world. Cricket in each and every part of the world is all I want to see before dying.

  • Tim on August 23, 2012, 17:24 GMT

    Here we go again! A lot of empty rhetoric!! To say it for the hundreth time: cricket's going NOWHERE unless you get mainstream Americans into the game and for all the confident claims we keep hearing that with T20 this is certaiin to happen no-one's yet been able to bring it about: not from these matches in Lauderhill not from the one in the Rogers Centre. I, for one, don't want to hear hype. I want to see someone with a convincing, workable, plan for bringing the game to mainstream Americans and I haven't heard that from anyone. Should be the #1 priority with the new USA CEO.

  • Nesar on August 23, 2012, 14:52 GMT

    Now a day N America is a strong hold of cricket fans, and a t20 tournament can be held in a regular basis.This could be a sold out event among the Ind,Ban,Pak,SL,Afg,Caribbean and English expatriates. Good event management companies should come forward to make it happen; otherwise it could lose it's popularity as last year's int t20 cricket event in Toronto was a failed one.

  • Poorti on August 23, 2012, 13:43 GMT

    vow this is great!!keep the work going!!!!

  • Alex on August 23, 2012, 13:19 GMT

    To make cricket successful in USA what you need NBA/NFL structure for cricket not BCCI or ICC like bodies. Americans like club culture than state oriented games. if Lalit Modi incharge of making that he will make it super success. ICC should appoint lalit modi for the job.

  • Alex on August 23, 2012, 13:17 GMT

    if World is playing cricket , india won't even get any medal in cricket. We all know what happened to india's real national game Field Hockey. We keep creating new game so we always on top for few years and jump to new game...every 50 years. :)

  • Jonathan on August 23, 2012, 12:15 GMT

    That is quite some exaggeration suggesting that, "the streets of Madison Avenue are screaming "Jumbo! for a different man....". For the record, (1) There has been no such incidence that occurred. (2) There has not been any other man that has been called "The Jumbo" other than "The Big J", not at least on States side let alone NYC.

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