Here's The Out-Of-The-Box Boost World Cricket Needs — Include US In West Indies

Karan Kamble

Jun 08, 2024, 03:53 PM | Updated 06:12 PM IST

The US won against Canada in the 2024 T20 world cup tournament opener and then went on to beat Pakistan. (Photo: ICC/Getty via USA Cricket on X)
The US won against Canada in the 2024 T20 world cup tournament opener and then went on to beat Pakistan. (Photo: ICC/Getty via USA Cricket on X)
  • The US and the Windies have a lot to prove right now, both in their own ways.
  • That being the case, here’s a radical idea to consider — club the US with the Windies for cricketing purposes.
  • The United States of America (US) and the West Indies, both co-hosts of the ongoing men’s T20 cricket world cup, are on an ascendency in cricket, though in different ways.

    What if these two regional ascendant forces of cricket came together and played as one?

    The US has been creating space for cricket to grow in its shores for at least a handful of years in a significant way. They have been building stadiums, hosting professional tournaments like Major League Cricket, and developing the supporting infrastructure for cricket to flourish within the country.

    As for letting the bat and ball do the talking, they have been on a roll there, as well. They recently beat Bangladesh 2-1 and before that gave neighbours Canada a 4-0 hammering, both at home.

    By courtesy of these wins, they came in hot into the T20 world cup. Then, they beat rivals Canada in the tournament opener — and they did it in style, posting the third-highest successful run chase in a T20 cricket world cup.

    And then came the big win — beating the 2022 T20 world cup runner-up, Pakistan.

    They will face a much stiffer opponent in India, and Ireland is decent too, in the days to come. But it’s safe to say that they can’t be ruled out from registering an upset after what they did against Pakistan — especially in the shortest format of the game where, as is said routinely, anyone can beat anyone else on a given day.

    However, for the US to come out of this group and move to the next stage would only be a bonus, an extraordinary one at that. By simply playing good competitive cricket and hosting the world cup well, the US would have already made a mark in cricket.

    Don't forget that they are playing host to a cricket world cup for the first time ever and are staging the biggest game of the tournament in India versus Pakistan — biggest because the US has a large diaspora from both countries.

    These wins, both on and off the field, would probably be sufficient for the US to sustain its ascendency in a game billions of people around the world love, but is yet to hit its strides in a significant way in North America.

    Unlike the US, cricket is deeply rooted in the West Indies. They were the cricket powerhouse in the early years and remained competitive most years. Then, they found a format where they could once again claim the big prize and stamp their authority — and they did, becoming the T20 world cup champions twice in the previous decade. (Only England has matched them in this feat.)

    It made sense for them to develop their version of the Indian Premier League (IPL), and thus was born the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). Just like in India, local talent got a domestic platform in which to perform and shine. The Caribbean players benefited especially by playing among some of the best cricket players in the world to ever do it.

    However, the West Indies hit a rough patch early this decade. The defending champions crashed out of the 2021 T20 world cup by failing to go past the super 12s, the main round preceding the semi-final and final rounds. They won a solitary game out of the five they played in this stage.

    In the subsequent edition in 2022, they failed to make it past even the first round — losing against Scotland and Ireland, and winning one against Zimbabwe — finding themselves unable to move to either of the two main groups that would fight for the prize.

    In a bigger blow, they failed to even qualify for the 2023 one-day international (ODI) world cup in India, after losing to Scotland in the super six stage of the world cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe. It was the first time that they didn’t feature in an ODI world cup since the coveted tournament began in the mid-1970s.

    So, not only were the T20 world cup exits a major setback for a team whose slam-bang style was best-suited for success in the shortest format, they didn’t even get a chance to flex their muscle in ODIs. (They only just made it to the 2019 ODI world cup through the qualifiers, in more evidence, if necessary, of the team’s decline in limited-overs cricket over the years.)

    But since then, the Windies have made a bit of a comeback. In the T20s, they won 3-2 against India and England at home in 2023. This year, they swept the T20 series against South Africa 3-0 playing at home. In the ongoing T20 world cup, they beat Australia in the warm-up game and won their first official game of the tournament, against Oman.

    They’ve got a good taste of success of late and would want to keep the winning momentum going right through this tournament. After all, winning at home is a motivation that little else can match.

    Therefore, the US and the Windies have a lot to prove right now, both in their own ways. That being the case, here’s returning to the radical idea proposed earlier — club the US with the Windies for cricketing purposes.

    The precedent for such a grouping lies in the Windies itself. The West Indies aren’t a political unit. They are a grouping of 15 nation-states and territories in the Caribbean region, all administered by one cricketing body — Cricket West Indies (CWI).

    Moreover, this composite unit isn’t set in stone. The fluid setup is open to more sign-ups, such as potentially the Bahamas. The US would make for a great cricketing addition to the Windies.

    The US’ strength is their finances and infrastructure, alongside the experience of hosting world-class sporting events. In an interview with ESPNcricinfo, CWI and T20 World Cup chief executive Johnny Grave described the US as “the most developed sports market in the world” and added that “the more we can reach out to it, the more we are likely to attract high-value sponsors and broadcasters.”

    Two of the three venues picked for the US leg of the T20 tournament, Grand Prairie (Dallas Texas) and Broward County (Lauderhill, Florida), already had the infrastructure in place to be a world cup venue. Still, the capacity at both these venues was lifted further by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

    The third venue, at Nassau County in New York, came into being from scratch only this year. Modular stadium technology was used for the purpose, adopted previously at ICC events to increase venue capacity. There are several other cricketing venues in the US waiting to be developed further in order to accommodate more games and people in the stands.

    In any case, the North American market is ripe for cricket to be embraced in a more significant way, potentially benefiting both the region and the game. And in the shorter term, the ICC is eyeing the addition of cricket in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

    “We strategically decided to bid for the men's T20 World Cup… jointly with the US because we wanted to grow the sport in our time zone, which we believe is crucial to our long-term survival,” Grave told ESPNcricinfo.

    While the US can lead the physical infrastructure side of things, the Windies can show the way with its talent. Some of the best ever cricket players have come from the West Indies over the years — Joel Garner, Clive Lloyd, Malcolm Marshall, Vivian Richards, Michael Holding, Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, to name only a few.

    This is not to say that the US takes a backseat with its players. They have extraordinary talent to offer themselves — consider captain Monank Patel and some of the heroes of the Canada and Pakistan contests, Andries Gous, Aaron Jones, and Saurabh Netravalkar.

    Further, left-arm seamer Tara Norris, who played for Delhi Capitals in the Women’s Premier League (WPL) in 2023, made history by bagging the tournament’s first five-wicket haul and took player-of-the-match honours. She went on to pick up seven wickets in five games. (Shockingly, she went unsold in WPL 2024.)

    Still, there are places up for grabs in the US' cricket team, as is evident from the ambitious recruitment drive pursued by USA Cricket for years.

    The effort has led to the inclusion of foreign players like New Zealand’s Corey Anderson, England’s Liam Plunkett, Pakistan-origin Ali Khan, and India’s Harmeet Singh. US team’s deputy, Jones, is also originally from Barbados.

    USA cricket’s idea has been to win games before thinking about achieving an all-US composition.

    A potential US-Windies grouping could comfortably put together tens of elite cricket players, who could fill up additional teams in the way that India has its A, B, and C teams alongside the main national team. The supplementary teams could act as a feeder to continuously keep putting the very best talent out there on the world cricket stage.

    It’s easy to imagine how competitive such a team would be, making global cricket more competitive than it is now.

    That’s that about the venues and players. What about the US viewers? Will they watch games of cricket?

    Initially, of course, the viewership will have to be driven primarily by the country’s 50 lakh-odd-strong South Asian diaspora. The hope will be that they will turn up to the ground in sizable numbers and enjoy watching cricket, before the fever gradually catches on to the rest of the population.

    Perhaps, cricket might never become as popular as baseball or basketball in the US, but it doesn’t need to. The US is a large enough country to accommodate the sporting interests and needs of a 33-odd-crore-strong population.

    There’s enough cricket interest to go around already. “I don't think people know actually how much cricket there is in this country,” Gous told the Washington Freedom franchise last year, as per ESPNcricinfo. “It's ridiculous. Everywhere in the country there's cricket. If you want to play 12 months a year, you'll find it.”

    A joint statement hailing CWI and USA Cricket’s successful joint bid to host the 2024 men’s T20 world cup spoke of “aims to unlock the potential of the USA and fast track the growth of the sport; to inspire the next generation of young West Indians and ignite the cricketing passion in the Caribbean; and to combine these two forces for the benefit of world cricket.”

    While they may not have thought of uniting as one cricketing unit when they said “combine these two forces,” it might be an idea to consider “for the benefit of world cricket.”

    Karan Kamble writes on science and technology. He occasionally wears the hat of a video anchor for Swarajya's online video programmes.

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