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Dallas dreams of cricket

Blessed with good weather, a large South Asian diaspora, and having hosted the MLC, the Texan city is well on its way to becoming the cricket hub of the USA

Cameron Ponsonby
Fans watch the first ever MLC game, Texas Super Kings vs LA Knight Riders, Major League Cricket, Grand Prairie, July 13, 2023

Grand Prairie Stadium hosted seven games of the inaugural MLC season, and on average filled up around 80% of the 7000-plus seats  •  Associated Press

Location. Weather. Facilities. People. In four words, you have the summary of why Texas has become the hub of cricket in America.
"It's not even a question," says USA player and Texas resident Andries Gous. "It's 100% Texas. Whether it's tournaments, games, camps or whatever it is that's being held - it's in Texas."
Gous himself was born and raised in South Africa but joined the many players from around the world who moved to the USA with the advent of Major League Cricket. At first he lived in Seattle before making the move to the Lone Star State, and in particular, to Dallas.
"I definitely moved for the stadium," says Gous, talking about Dallas's Grand Prairie facility, which will host four matches during this World Cup, including the opening fixture between USA and Canada. "I can practise at the stadium and there's now outdoor nets being built. The facilities are just better in Dallas at the moment.
"I'm a bit different to the other guys because I play tournaments outside the country, so I need some proper facilities throughout the year. Other people [elsewhere in the United States] will be stuck indoors whereas I can train outdoors [in Texas], which is what I need."
For players, Texas represents the result of a "build it and they will come" philosophy. Dallas and Houston both now have infrastructure that attracts players domestically and from overseas. In the last year alone, more than a dozen cricketers, both international and domestic, have moved to one of the two cities.
But that doesn't completely answer why the venue was built there in the first place.
"We looked all over the country," explains Justin Geale, tournament director for MLC, who have leased and developed the Grand Prairie facility in Dallas, completed less than a year ago.
"The original thought was that it's probably easier to convert a baseball stadium," he says. The search for one such was extensive. "I'd be surprised if there's a Minor League stadium in the country that's closed or for sale that we didn't know about."
Indeed, Grand Prairie was formerly home to the Texas AirHogs baseball team, who folded in 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic. MLC saw the opportunity and convinced the local government of the value of a new stadium on the site.
"Ultimately," Geale says, "we came in and sold them on the idea of cricket."
The city of Grand Prairie owns the stadium and MLC has an exclusive lease to it. All the upgrades that have taken place, at a cost of US$21 million, have been funded by the investors and teams within MLC.
The actual site had enough space for a renovated stadium to be built, and practice facilities are now being added immediately outside it. But beyond that, Texas itself was an attractive location due its central location in the US (only three or four hours by flight from most places in the country), its climate, and a large South Asian diaspora.
"The location is really important," Geale explains. "It's about 15-20 minutes from Dallas-Fort Worth airport, so it's in a really accessible spot in a major city in Texas. Also, the weather means you can play around ten months of the year. So there's an awful lot going for it from a geography standpoint, and also a demographic standpoint."
A key part of US cricket's recent history involves Vijay Srinivasan and Sameer Mehta, co-founders of American Cricket Enterprises, which operates MLC, and crucially, are also co-founders of Willow TV, a 24x7 cricket channel in the US that broadcasts all major cricketing events in the country. Using their subscriber data allowed them to pinpoint where in the US would be best suited to building the nation's cricketing hubs, which, unsurprisingly, were areas with large South Asian populations.
"That was one of the things we looked at when allocating markets and thinking where this might work," Geale says. "It's a pretty expensive business so it makes sense to go for lower-hanging fruit, which is people that love the game, to start with, and building out from there."
Dallas already boasted a number of indoor facilities, and it is estimated that there are over 1000 juniors playing cricket in the area. Furthermore, a Sixes Social Cricket bar is situated just north of the city, one of only two locations outside the UK where the cricket-themed bar has a venue.
"I don't think people know actually how much cricket there is in this country," said Gous in an interview with the Washington Freedom franchise last summer. "It's ridiculous. Everywhere in the country there's cricket. If you want to play 12 months a year, you'll find it."
"Until four or five years back," says Dhandapani Devarasan, the head coach of the Dallas-based Mustang Cricket Academy, "many parents asked me what is the future of cricket here. Now, no one is asking."
Mustang is owned by Lovkesh Kalia, who moved to the area in 1999. "When I arrived, we had eight teams and we all knew each other," he reminisces. "Now there are probably more than 200 games being played every weekend. It's amazing. And there are grounds popping up everywhere.
"Literally the other week two new grounds came up, and now Celina is putting up two grounds. Prosper is putting up two grounds," he says, referring to two towns north of Dallas. "And the reason they're doing it is because they've figured out that South Asians migrate and cricket is very, very important to them. And there's been a tremendous amount of migration in those places north of Dallas, so the cities are putting up cricket grounds. Before we had to beg them. Now they're saying, 'We have a cricket ground for you. Come down here.' The growth has been tremendous."
While the growth has been exponential, the sport, at a recreational level at least, remains one that is played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora. According to Kalia, 99% of children playing in Dallas are of South Asian heritage. The question is whether that matters. After all, America is a massive country with a population of 335 million. And while those with Indian heritage make up just 1.4% of that figure, that's 4.5 million people - only about 500,000 fewer than the population of New Zealand.
As such, the US boasts a passionate but diluted fan base that is spread across a country the size of a continent. But now, with children who are second- or third-generation Americans growing up and playing the sport their parents knew and loved, it is burgeoning and excelling in specific locations. Comparisons or questions about whether cricket will become the new baseball are lazy ones. It never has been, nor will it ever be the goal to make it that.
"It's such a big market, but I think we need to tap that community first," Geale says. "But I genuinely do think there is an opportunity to grow a wider base because I don't think you want to become just known as a sport played by immigrants. I think it's probably taken Major League Soccer 20 years to shake that tag and become more mainstream. I think we need to tap that. We can go after new fans as well. But yeah, to say we're going to be Major League Baseball is ridiculous."
The plan now is for the USA national team to base themselves at Grand Prairie in the near future. There have also been discussions with English counties about the prospect of pre-season training camps being held in the city. But the ultimate aim is for Dallas to be the location where teams touring the West Indies add a handful of fixtures on to the end or start of a tour to play a strong US national team.
"We're building a high-performance centre," says Geale. "And players really enjoy their time here. It's a great place to bring the family and the golf clubs.
"And also," he says with a smile, "you get to see Disneyland on the way home too."

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby