USA looking forward to India-West Indies T20I clash

For the Indian expats who shop in Little Market, it’s a first-ever chance to see India-West Indies T20I clash play in their adopted home. This week, India has come to town. They face defending World T20 champions West Indies in two T20 matches at the stadium.For American cricket fans, there are questions about whether these two matches offer hope for more cricket opportunities.

Cricket fan and sports blogger Jon Marthaler understands the significance of India-West Indies coming to the US. He’s among the American fans who hopes these matches mean the beginning of more elite cricket, played by current stars. Marthaler, who lives in Minnesota and also loves traditional North American sports such as baseball and ice hockey, respects the matchup’s history – and hopes the series bodes well for the future.

According to the United States census, there were 2,843,391 Asian Indians living there in 2010. That figure grew from 1,678,765 in 2000, a whopping 69.37% change, making it one of the most rapidly increasing ethnic groups in the country. That figure has now swelled to well over 4,000,000. Pakistanis now number somewhere in the region of 453,000 persons and also increasing rapidly, as are the Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan populations.

The English-speaking Caribbean population is probably over 2,000,000. Add those from other cricket-playing nations such as Australia, Great Britain and South Africa and you have a sizeable, well-off market.

The Cricket All-Star Series of November 2015, conceived by Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar, attracted a total audience of 66,000 fans. Held at three venues, New York’s Citi Field, Houston’s Minute Maid Park and Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, boisterous, cricket-starved crowds loudly cheered “Warne’s Warriors” and “Sachin’s Blasters.”

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A few years ago I lived in Edison, New Jersey in a condominium complex that was also home to a number of Indian families. My son and I spent many evenings, weather permitting of course, playing cricket with a number of children, many of whom played with an impressively straight bat. Surprisingly, they seemed much more enthusiastic about cricket than they were about baseball and American football.

The fan base is large and growing. John Aaron, formerly of the International Cricket Council (ICC)-suspended United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) is the executive secretary of the American Cricket Federation (ACF). It’s website (americancricketfederation.org) says it’s mission “is to inspire Americans to play and to excel at cricket and to make cricket the pre-eminent bat-and-ball sport in the United States.”

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Speaking to Cricbuzz, Aaron had this to say about the US cricket market: “The potential market for cricket in the US is huge, given the sports-oriented culture of Americans. Starting with a fan base of between 15 and 20 million cricket fans resident in the US, albeit primarily from cricket-playing countries. There is an opportunity to introduce cricket to Americans not familiar with the sport, thereby growing the fan base.”

“The ICC recently appointed a national Advisory Committee charged with making recommendations for fan and market development. The Caribbean Premier League (CPL) last month hosted six divisional matches in the US, and it is expected to become an annual event. Such initiatives will exploit the market and hopefully help the sport grow in the US, and not be seen solely as commercial opportunities.”

The Central Broward Regional Park and Stadium in Lauderhill, Florida is the lone ICC-certified cricket ground in America. Opening its doors in November 2007, it is capable of seating 20,000 persons. In May 2010, it hosted two India-West Indies Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) between Sri Lanka and New Zealand. The West Indies played two T20Is – June 30 and July 1, 2012. And earlier this year the aforementioned six CPL matches were contested there. August 27th and 28th will see India taking on the West Indies in two T20Is.

There is a buzz in the cricket community about the upcoming games, with fans from all over the country expected to descend on Florida. This should be a boon for cricket in America. “Having the games in the US,” said Aaron, “does essentially two things, a.) It opens up a relatively untapped market for the sport, and, b.) It helps grow the fan base and support of cricket in the country.”

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“The two games involving India and the West Indies are great opportunities to whet the appetites of the fan bases of both teams. There is a large Caribbean community in Florida, and an even larger Indian community nationwide, both of which are expected to support the two India-West Indies T20 matches.”

So, are there plans to have more big cricket in the US? And what about Test matches?

“It depends on who is asked and who is willing to fund more cricket in the US,” Aaron replied. “However, I do believe there is more cricket on the horizon for the US.”

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“With regard to the second question, I don’t believe there are any plans currently to host Test matches in the US, for a number of reasons, including, a.) The lack of infrastructure and adequate facilities, and b.) A general disinterest in the longer format of the sport by the majority of Americans. Americans by nature are attracted to sports with shorter time frames and definitive results (winner/loser).”

One issue that has to be an impediment to cricket development in the US has to be the turmoil attendant to the suspension of USACA. Aaron hopes that the issue of a governing body will be settled soon. Asked if there is any chance the ICC will recognize the ACF as being responsible for the game in the US, he gave this answer: “It is generally hoped that they would, however, it is very unlikely that we would learn anything before December of this year.”

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