by Ben Miron
The sport of cricket has now been part of my life for just under three years, and like many cricket fans, I am completely obsessed with the game. I play cricket year round in the Houston Cricket League and watch as much international cricket as possible. I know there is a large foreign born population who are as equally obsessed with cricket as I am. However, I am now just finding out that there are other white, American born cricketers like myself. To me this is very refreshing, not only to justify that I am not crazy for spending every weekend at the cricket field, but it also shows that there is hope in expanding the game among other Americans.
I enjoyed reading Peter Della Penna’s article and believe that I can add to his insight with my own five ways to make cricket attractive to Americans.
1. Show cricket highlights on television
As a football, basketball and baseball-loving boy from the American South, I watched ESPN SportsCenter religiously. Of course I tuned in hoping to see highlights from my beloved Texas Longhorns or Atlanta Braves, but I always love seeing outstanding plays from other teams and sports. I believe that injecting some cricket highlights into shows such as SportsCenter would do wonders for introducing the American sports loving public to the sport of cricket.
Showing both international highlights as well as US cricket highlights would be very effective in making cricket attractive to Americans. International highlights showing an amazing catch from Paul Collingwood, a tenacious bouncer from Mitchell Johnson, or a huge six from Yuvraj Singh would spark interest in cricket by Americans. Additionally, if the occasional highlights from domestic leagues and tournaments were shown, it would help Americans realize there are other sports being played on their home soil, besides the standard football, basketball, and baseball.
2. Give Americans an opportunity to play cricket
After seeing cricket on TV while vacationing in London, I came back to the US and realized there was a large South Asian population at the University of Texas who played taped tennis ball cricket. After playing a couple of pick-up taped tennis ball games, I was hooked. I eventually began playing in a seasoned ball league in Austin and then in Houston where I moved a year later. Had I not had an opportunity to play cricket, I believe that my interest would have fizzled, and cricket would have just been that sport I saw on TV.
Through my experience, I realize that getting the opportunity to play cricket is a must in making cricket attractive to Americans. I think the workshop that Peter Della Penna discussed in his article is a great idea and needs to be expanded. By introducing cricket to children at schools, kids will see that it is a fun game and may be something they would like to continue to play and watch. Ultimately, with enough interest, cricket could be established as an interscholastic sport, similar to the PSAL cricket program in New York.
In addition to introducing cricket to kids through the schools, American adults should be given an opportunity to play cricket. Clubs and leagues have to do a better job in recruiting Americans, not just restricting the game to ethnic players who have played cricket all of their lives. Local cricket leagues could have an open house type event at the beginning of each season, which would allow Americans to try bowling or batting and possibly become interested in playing for one of the league’s clubs. Encouraging Caucasian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans to play cricket would help Americans realize that cricket can be mixed into the US sports landscape.
3. Make cricket equipment more readily available
Playing cricket in the US is difficult for an American born cricketer. Not only have I been faced with the challenge of not having years of proper training on batting and bowling technique, but it is also very difficult for me to obtain cricket equipment. Essentially, all cricket shopping must be done online, which might discourage a casual cricketer. It is also usually more expensive because most of the cricket equipment must be imported from overseas and those costs are passed on to the consumer. If economical bats, balls, and pads could be purchased at local sporting goods stores, Americans would be much more likely to play cricket, both in their backyard with friends and recreationally and competitively in a local cricket league.
4. Show cricket on television
If cricket was currently shown on US television stations it would get a smattering of viewers; however the majority would be expatriates or immigrants from cricket playing nations. But after seeing highlights on TV and playing cricket in gym class or a local cricket league open house, Americans would be much more likely to begin watching cricket on television. I saw bits and pieces of various cricket matches during my trip to London, but it wasn’t until I had actually played cricket that I was willing to sit through a full cricket match.
Although it will be difficult for Test and ODI cricket matches to be successful on US television, Twenty20s certainly could be instantly popular. The shorter version of the game is tailor-made as a televised sport, and this would translate to Americans as well. Even though I had only been playing cricket for about four months, throughout the month of September 2007 I was glued to the computer at all hours of the night to watch the World Twenty20. I could only wish that these exciting matches were being shown on TV, rather than watching it on pay-per-view internet streaming sites. Today, I also enjoy watching ODIs and Tests, but still streaming on the internet. Twenty20s are a great way to get initial interest in cricket, and eventually once the American sports watching public has gotten used to watching cricket matches, there can be a market for longer forms of the game as well.
Of course, here in America, the almighty dollar drives everything. For people to want to play cricket it must be economical. Gym coaches are not going to spend their yearly budget on cricket bats and balls when they can buy much cheaper basketballs and dodge balls. Schools are not going to start cricket teams that drain the athletic departments’ budgets. The cricket loving public in the US must be willing to spend time and money in helping introduce their sport to fellow Americans. USACA has to receive more funding and designate it for youth programs. The ICC needs to help jump start cricket in America.
As evident in county cricket and international cricket, as well as tournaments such as the IPL, cricket can provide some very lucrative television contracts and other sponsorship opportunities. American cricket will not see these financial windfalls right away, but eventually it could be a reality. Cricket in America should be seen as an investment. Cricket is never going to replace football or baseball, or even soccer in this country, but there is an opportunity for cricket to make huge strides. It is going to take lots of time, effort, and money, but eventually there can be a market for cricket in America.
These are my five ways to make cricket attractive to Americans. I am sure there are 25 other ways to popularize cricket in America, but from my experience, these five ways would be very effective. My biggest regret in my short cricketing career is that I did not discover the sport until my senior year in college. I dream that cricket one day will become part of US sports culture and Americans can have a chance to see why cricket is one of the world’s most popular sports.
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