Has cricket finally arrived in the USA?

The Indian diaspora and its growth, both in terms of absolute numbers and overall wealth and influence, has played a big role in the game gaining prominence .
The India-Pak match at the temporarily-built Nassau County
International Cricket Stadium in New York
The India-Pak match at the temporarily-built Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York

BENGALURU: On June 9, the India-Pakistan match broke the record for the most-attended cricket match in the USA with 38,028 people – and I was one of them. The low-scoring match with rain interruptions eventually met the demand of the audience (90 per cent of which were Indian fans) thanks to the clinical bowling of Jasprit Bumrah.

Although the ‘drop-in’ pitch did not meet the standards of a high-scoring T20 match, that it was transported from Australia and an entire popup stadium was built (at a cost of $40million) is an achievement. The Nassau County International Cricket Stadium was constructed in just 106 days and will take approximately six weeks to dismantle. With high-profile people in attendance – Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Indra Nooyi, Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai to name a few – the logical next stop for cricket is America.

The question is – can cricket become America’s national sport? Jayesh Patel’s Flannels on the Sward asks that question and answers by saying, “It would have been”. By 1859 cricket was being played in at least 22 US states, in over 125 cities and towns, with an estimated 1,000 clubs! Around the time of the US Civil War, the game began competing with baseball for participants, and gradually declined in popularity. 

After I moved to the US in 2014, my interest in cricket declined, primarily because watching India’s games posed a time zone challenge. Also, cricket was never the topic of discussion with colleagues as it competed with basketball, baseball, football and other sports for mindshare. However, once I started mentoring Anika Kolan (wicketkeeper, batter), the 17-year-old Vice Captain of the US Women’s Cricket team, my interest levels increased, especially in cricket in the USA. With the current T20 Cricket World Cup being played in the US and the West Indies, cricket is making a comeback in the US.

Cricket being
telecast for the public near
One World Center, New York
Cricket being telecast for the public near One World Center, New York

In another landmark development, cricket is poised to return to the Olympic Games after more than a century. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has officially confirmed the inclusion of cricket in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, marking a triumphant comeback for the game on the world’s grandest sporting stage. Men’s and women’s T20 cricket events will feature in the XXXIV Olympiad, a significant step forward from the game’s last appearance in 1900. With an estimated fan base of 2.5 billion, cricket holds the title of the second most popular sport in the world. Its participation in the Olympics will only broaden this reach, introducing the thrill of the fast-paced T20 format to new audiences. 

So how did cricket make this historic comeback in the US? The Indian diaspora and its growth, both in terms of absolute numbers (Indian immigrants are the second largest immigrant group after the Mexicans) and overall wealth and influence, has played a big role. Today Indians earn higher than any other ethnic group. Data shows 1 per cent of Indians pay around 6 per cent of taxes in the US. The formation of Major League Cricket in 2023 with several overseas players from South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan and Bangladesh has piqued interest in the game. US cricket clubs are now owned/co-owned by influential Indians such as Satya Nadella and Shantanu Narayen.

Another interesting aspect is that overseas cricketers who play in the USA for just three years are eligible to play for the national team. New Zealand cricketer Corey Anderson, for instance, is now playing for Team USA, which beat Pakistan in the T20 World Cup and defeated the Bangladesh team 2-1 in the T20 series, in the run up to the World Cup. However, for the game to truly become an American sport it must be embraced by the local community (Indians largely constitute the USA team). In The Talented Field, the author Tom Melville argues that in the 1900s, cricket did not fail in America because of some catastrophic social disruption, premature technical development, its foreign identity or inadequate promotion. Cricket failed in America because it never established an American character.

I was pleasantly surprised to see local New Yorkers trying out bowling and batting at the temporarily created viewing station near the One World Center. While the World Cup has created some buzz, most Major League matches are played to empty stadiums. Today New York, Florida, Texas and California are the epicentres of cricket in the country but it needs a wider reach. The game must be aggressively built bottom-up and top down. For it to be popular at the grassroots level, there needs to a healthy incentive system.

The writer at
the India-Pak match
The writer at the India-Pak match

E.g. students playing at the U17 level should get admission to premier colleges (for that to happen cricket has to become a NCAA recognized college sport). Most cricket pitches here are concrete (instead of turf) and that affects the batsman’s ability to play quality bowling. Eventually, the ability to make a full-time career out of playing cricket is what will ensure a viable future for the game. Saurav Ganguly, whom I met a day before the India-Pakistan match, was confident that within a decade, cricket can be mainstreamed in the USA!

With India’s position in the world improving, bilateral relations between India and the US have gained importance globally, cricket can be used as a soft power for diplomacy between the two countries. Eric Garcetti, the former Mayor of Los Angeles and now the US Ambassador to India, played a significant role in getting cricket included in the LA28 Olympics. The immediate challenge is to keep the momentum and interest going in the duration between the ongoing T20 World Cup and the LA28 Olympics. For Team USA to share an equal playing field with the major cricket-playing countries, a lot of work needs to be done. Building a pipeline of world-class cricketers is a long process. It requires the younger generation to play the game from an early age.

While watching the India-Pak match from the stands, eating samosas and chole-kulcha, surrounded by loud and boisterous Indians, I did feel a sense of pride and a feeling that cricket had finally arrived in the USA.

(The writer’s views are personal)

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