Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Rise Of Cricket In The Land Of NBA and NFL. Strange, But It’s Happening

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Hyderabad: After three centuries of intense winter, Cricket’s warmest, craziest summer has finally arrived in America with the pinnacle moment set to open on June 2, 2024, with the T20 World Cup kicking off in New York’s imposing Nassau County stadium.

The short and swift version of Cricket has been slowly gaining attention in the US. With the T20 World Cup being jointly hosted by the US and the West Indies, the US’ first game of such a big magnitude will be played in the States. Interestingly, the World Cup will be followed by the second edition of Major League Cricket (MLC), the US’ answer to the Indian Premier League (IPL).

As the ICC’s member body for the United States, USA Cricket has selected MLC as its exclusive partner for the development of a professional Twenty20 Cricket League. The MLC also provides support for both the USA’s Men’s and Women’s teams, with the goal of elevating them to the highest level of international competition.

The MLC has played an important role in moving the much-needed catalyst to move Cricket in this part of the world. Launched in 2019, MLC is the highest level of domestic T20 cricket in the US. This has provided a professional platform for American cricketers, mostly immigrants, and a high-quality competition to attract fans.

In 2023, the MLC burst onto the scene, reshaping the American cricket landscape. For the first time, the United States witnessed world-class domestic T20 cricket, captivating audiences with electrifying matches.

Each team had a minimum of 16 players and a maximum of 19 players on its squad. Each roster must include one under-23 domestic “rookie” player to help develop the next generation of American star players, along with another nine domestic players.

In 2023, each team’s total salary cap was $1.15M for the tournament, putting MLC amongst the elite T20 global leagues in terms of player compensation per match.

Besides, Minor League Cricket is the only nationwide tournament involving the strongest male players playing against each other at the best available facilities, with almost all of the players selected in the 2023 MLC Domestic Player Draft having participated in the competition over the previous two seasons.

With a majority of the games hosted in Texas and North Carolina, MLC venues saw packed stadiums, echoing with the cheers of enthusiastic fans. The debut season showcased 19 thrilling encounters, blending the talents of international cricket stars with homegrown heroes. MI New York emerged triumphant, clinching the coveted championship title.

After making an impact in the inaugural season in July 2023, the MLC has got tech giant Cognizant as their title sponsor for the 2024 edition. The packed stands in the inaugural edition have reasserted the success.

All six teams who competed in MLC’s historic inaugural season will feature again this year, right after the World Cup. Returning superstar players already announced to compete include Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan (MI New York), South Africans Faf du Plessis (Texas Super Kings), Marco Jansen (Washington Freedom) and Quinton de Kock (Seattle Orcas), Pakistan’s Haris Rauf (San Francisco Unicorns) and Sunil Narine (LA Knight Riders) of the West Indies.

The matches will take place at Grand Prairie Stadium near Dallas, TX. This newly renovated cricket-specific stadium features 7,200 seats and a grass wicket meeting the highest levels of international accreditation.

MLC co-founder Vijay Srinivasan has promised the ‘greatest summer of Cricket’ for the fans of the sport in the United States. A pioneer in cricket broadcasting in the US, Srinivasan has often wondered why his broadcasting platform did not air a single game played on US soil. That pushed him to come up with the idea of launching MLC. Things had to fall into place and once they did, Srinivasan took the plunge.

The MLC’s infrastructural activities include building international quality stadiums, setting up elite youth academies, providing high-grade training facilities and establishing high-performance pathways to create a deep talent pool of players to feed Minor and Major League Cricket in the US.

Last year, the MLC, with its six teams and support from prominent personalities in the Indian and US corporate sectors, was deemed by experts as having all the components for a successful league. The MLC has also grabbed the attention of big American news channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, and The New York Times. They’ve been talking about it a lot! The league’s data shows it’s already popular on social media, with 40 million views and 3 million likes and comments.

The MLC’s six teams are San Francisco Unicorns, Seattle Orcas, Texas Super Kings, Washington Freedom, MI New York, and Los Angeles Knight Riders.

Interestingly, three MLC teams are owned by famous Indians who also own teams in the IPL. Reliance Industries head Mukesh Ambani who owns Mumbai Indians is also the franchise of MI New York. Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, owner of Kolkata Knight Riders, has put in money for Los Angeles Knight Riders. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) India Cements owns Texas Super Kings.

The GMR Group, which owns half of the IPL team Delhi Capitals through its subsidiary, also has a big share in the Seattle Orcas, along with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. The San Francisco Unicorns belong to tech entrepreneurs Anand Rajaraman and Venky Harinarayan. Indian-American entrepreneur Sanjay Govil now owns the Washington Freedom.

The league is backed by American Cricket Enterprises (ACE), a group of over 20 respected investors. This impressive lineup features Nadella, as well as Adobe Chairman and CEO Shantanu Narayen, Ross Perot Jr. from The Perot Group, and former WhatsApp Chief Business Officer Neeraj Arora, among other notable figures.

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