By Rohan Chandran
Many years ago, I was a college freshman, watching Pakistan take on
the West Indies in an ODI (1990s Tip: Make friends with the guy who
controls the University C-band satellite dish). A dorm-mate of mine
was passing through the room just as the screen showed Desmond Haynes’
8,000+ runs in ODI cricket. Cue complete shock and awe – that one
person could score that many runs. He sat down and watched the
remainder of that game, and several games thereafter.
Cricket can indeed garner an audience, even here in America. There
is, of course, much that we must do to improve the standard of our
game, but in parallel there is much that we can do to make it
attractive, and that is what we focus on here.
1. Think Long Term and put Cricket First.
Short term thinking and ego-fuelled self-aggrandizement are not only
detrimental to the quality of our cricket, but also restricting our
ability to popularize the game. We’re all better than each other, and
busy looking for our own little glories, instead of thinking about the
game and its longevity.
How many people want to spend their free time following that?
For people to invest their time, effort and emotion in following a
sport, whether it is as a casual fan or a fanatic, they need to
reasonably expect some return on their investment. Being a fan is not a
one-night stand, it’s a lifelong commitment. For cricket to earn that
commitment from people, it has to make that commitment itself.
Soccer is still working to make it in this country, and it’s taken
50 years of concerted effort to get this far. If we keep looking for
quick fixes and plump for short-sighted solutions, at best we’ll have a
few false dawns (think Pro Cricket or MLC of a few years ago). Soccer
learned from its mistakes, and took a long-term approach, starting with
fundamentals. It’s working for them, and we would do well to borrow
from their experience.
So what should we do?
2. Get into Schools – It’s about the kids.
The US Rugby team consistently makes it to the Rugby World Cup, and
will be there once again in 2011. The team is currently ranked 16th in
the world, and has been around the top 15 for years.
How many rugby fans do you know? How popular is rugby in America?
Your likely answers are “none”, and “not very”. Will qualifying for a
cricket World Cup (T20 or ODI) have a different outcome?
Rugby has recognized that their biggest problem is that their sport
is only picked up in college, at the earliest, where it serves a niche
interest, but also as a fallback for those who don’t play other varsity
sports. Cricket is even worse off, played by people in their twenties,
thirties and forties. It exists as, and is perceived as, a recreational
pastime for those who hail from other lands.
Rugby is pushing hard to get into high schools and to involve kids
at an earlier age, and that is something cricket needs to do in a big
way if it is looking to create any sort of a broad base for the future.
Start where you have a cricket friendly population, and expand from
there. It’s okay to be the fallback sport for those who don’t make the
cut in the big ones. It’s okay if it’s immigrants and the children of
immigrants who are your first takers.
3. Develop cricketers properly.
We only have to look at our recent national squads, in order to
glimpse another fundamental problem. The senior squad Is comprised of
thirty-somethings (with just a couple of exceptions). But age is not
the enemy, cricketing roots are.
We have failed to develop players locally, and so boys who play in
our U19 squads, and perform at that level, disappear without a trace.
At the senior level, in come players who learned and developed their
game elsewhere, and are now in the US for non-cricketing reasons.
We do nothing to take the children who show real talent and promise
in the 14-18 age group, and develop them into cricketers for our
future. These are the boys who have to break into our national team so
that finally, we have home grown talent to support.
They don’t have to be white Americans, they don’t have to even be
American born, but until we create an environment in which someone can
learn or develop their game here, and then make it to the highest level
available to them (the US senior team), there will be little that’s
American about our cricket team, and therefore little that will appeal
to anyone outside the cricket playing fraternity.
4. Marketing – Kill the politics, and give people a hook.
If you want any sort of broad based appeal, then you need to make an
effort to market the game, and in order to do that, the game has to be
marketable to its potential audience.
First and foremost, nobody has time for the politics and shenanigans
that plague US cricket today. Look at baseball in the mid-90s, and if
you doubt me, ask the Montreal Expos who were having their best ever
season, lost all their fans and are now the Washington Nationals. Clean
up our act in cricket, and then we at least give ourselves something
that we can market without embarrassment.
Then follows the question of how we market it. We need to look at
what resonates with the target audience – the sort of things they might
- Collegiate Sports – For Americans, loyalty to their
undergraduate alma mater is lifelong. Pride in your college or
university is a big deal, and following and supporting its sports teams
are a core part of that. At Stanford, I was routinely asked about how
we did in the cricket Pac-10, and there was even excitement about the
cricket Big Game against Cal.
Unfortunately, the cricket Pac-10 did not
exist, and Berkeley no longer play in the local league. There are some
commendable efforts going on to create regional and national
inter-collegiate competition. If we can make this a reality, it will
be another big step forward in giving us a shot at being a popular game.
- Statistics – Follow the example of the baseball boxscore.
Be creative, and realize that the game may need to be marketed a little
differently in a country which doesn’t have the sport sewn into its
fabric. Cricket lends itself to numbers in a way that perhaps no other
sport does – so embrace that.
- Quality – At the end of the day, you need to provide a
certain level of quality to get mass appeal. Loyalty and fandom is
either born out of geography, or the attractiveness of a winning habit.
What I’m really saying is that we need to do all the basic things that
would appear in the “5 ways to improve the standard of cricket in
America” article – around our infrastructure (tangible and intangible),
administration, coaching, selection processes, and just basic
understanding of what the game is about at a higher level. White balls
and colored clothing are not the solution if it’s sustainable interest
that we are looking to foster. A quality product needs to come first.
5. Realistic Objectives.
So with all of that in mind, we come to what might be a
controversial point. Who are the “Americans” we’re trying to take the
game to, and what does it mean to create mass appeal and a national
Here I contend that we are fools if we think we can in any way
supplant or even exist at the same level as the major American sports.
It isn’t going to happen. Cricket is not made in the USA. You either
have to change cricket, make it an American sport, and then give it a
shot; or you have to think realistically about what cricket’s potential
place in the order is. Baseball took care of option 1, so we’re working
with option 2.
We need to avoid using “American” as a euphemism for “35 year old
white male from middle America.” We’re not trying to sell prime time
television advertising, and that person is not, and likely never will
be our audience.
Instead, we need to understand and accept that for the game of
cricket as we know it (and as it evolves globally), the “American” we
can go after is possibly an immigrant, or the child of immigrant
parents. That’s not a bad thing – it describes a node in most family
trees. If cricket can start capturing the children of immigrants first,
it then has a shot at their children, and each subsequent generation on
an increasingly broad scale. So rather than delude ourselves, let’s go
after what we can really get.
Now that doesn’t mean we can’t and won’t attract anyone else – I
think if we taken all of the above suggestions, and those made by
others in this series, we will attract many fans outside that base as
well. But that is where the core has to initially come from – they are
the messiahs who will spread the word, as it were.
[The author captained
Hong Kong U-19 from 1990-1992, and played with the senior squad in
1991-92 before moving to the US, where he has played with Stanford CC
ever since. He was also the first person to join Simon King in running
CricInfo back in early 1993, traveling the world as a journalist and
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