Thursday, June 20, 2024

Upset win heralded America’s presence on the world cricket stage

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Thursday marked one of the greatest triumphs in American sports. USA Cricket upset Pakistan in the Group Stage of the International Cricket Council Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup at Grand Prairie Stadium. To American cricket fans, this is reminiscent of the “Miracle on Ice” when the U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet Union during the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The unheralded U.S. squad, comprising mostly semiprofessional cricketers, defeated a mighty Pakistani national team, who were finalists in the previous T20 World Cup in 2022. Even the NBC Nightly News covered the event.

The U.S. plays an unfamiliar role in this tournament, that of an underfunded, inexperienced underdog. Team USA consists of players who are not seasoned professionals and do not have lucrative contracts. The U.S. lacks cricketing infrastructure like world-class stadiums and practice facilities, developmental leagues and regular exposure to matches and tournaments with other cricketing nations that enable players to hone their skills. Team USA’s star bowler, Saurabh Netravalkar, who was entrusted to bowl Thursday’s Super Over — a high-pressure overtime situation — plays cricket alongside his full-time job at Oracle.

Despite these disadvantages, Team USA played with grit and determination. It negotiated Pakistan’s fierce fast-bowling attack with ease. It held its composure to score 14 runs in the final over (An over is a set of six bowls.) with 11 runs coming from the last three balls, to send the match to a Super Over. Despite being a new entrant to the top level of cricket, Team USA looked like seasoned veterans.

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Even though cricket is the second-largest spectator sport in the world, it has yet to regain popularity in the U.S. However, the enthusiasm for cricket in the U.S. could grow if present and future fans are entertained with more spectacular victories like Thursday’s win.

The history of cricket in the U.S. dates back to the 18th century. The first public report of a cricket match was in 1751 and the first-ever international cricket match was played between the U.S. and Canada in New York in September 1844. However, the sport fell out of favor in the mid-1860s with the ascendance of baseball. The primary interest in the sport is confined to immigrants from the former British colonies.

Today, cricket is played in three formats: a five-day version called Test Cricket; a 50-overs version called One-Day Cricket; and a 20-overs version termed Twenty20 (T20) that lasts for about 4 hours.

The U.S. is co-hosting (along with the West Indies) the ongoing T20 Cricket World Cup. There are 20 nations participating in the tournament, which beganon June 1 in Grand Prairie and continues through June 29, when the final match will be played in Bridgetown, Barbados.

The co-hosting of the T20 World Cup is a testament to the growing interest in cricket in the U.S. Last summer, Major League Cricket (MLC), a professional T20 cricket league, was launched with key investors including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and local businessmen Ross Perot Jr. and Anurag Jain.

The league comprises six teams from Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and New York. The majority of the matches in the inaugural season of July 2023 were played at Grand Prairie Stadium. Before the 2024 MLC season, the league obtained List-A status from the International Cricket Council, which designates it as an officially recognized league. The July 2024 season will feature Team USA’s stars and several top international cricketers. The entirety of the MLC’s playoffs, along with much of the regular season, will be played in Grand Prairie.

With the quality of the United States’ professional league improving, a development league being launched (Minor League Cricket), and our national team showing strong signs of improvement, there is no doubt in my mind that support for cricket in this country will grow to attract new fans.

While our current team comprises players that for the most part learned the sport in other more prominent cricket playing nations such as India, the West Indies, New Zealand and South Africa, the team does include home-grown talent such as Steven Taylor and Jasdeep Singh. And with one of the country’s best stadiums here in North Texas, we will get to witness the ascent of cricket in our own backyard.

Thursday’s win will go a long way in ensuring that cricket has a future in the U.S. This team deserves our support and gratitude.

Hemang Desai is a professor of accounting at the Cox Business School at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and an avid cricket fan.

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