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The rise of cricket in the United States of America 

The SARS-CoV-2 viral pandemic upended the world not only with regards to our health, social life, but also the sporting calendar. Cricket in the United States has largely been a sport for weekenders as a source of recreation. It continues to be a sport that the ever increasing expatriates have been enjoying for decades. Getting the sport to be accepted by mainstream fans in the United States will be a tall order and a tough mountain to climb. 

USA cricket embarked on its ambitious journey of rising through the ranks of the cricket world as it defeated Papua New Guinea in two One Day Internationals after this protracted and unavoidable delay from SARS-CoV-2 virus and their subsequent variants having created havoc. After a rather one-sided series win against Papua New Guinea, the USA cricket team will play Nepal and host nation Oman in a three-nation One Day International series commencing on Monday (September 13).

This is part of the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 matches. This tour of the USA cricket team will be the first under the leadership of the new coach, J. Arunkumar, who would certainly hope that his team would perform well and improve its position in the CWC League 2 table. USA Cricket Operations Director, Richard Done, commented on the USA cricket website that the team will have plenty of incentive to perform well in CWC League 2.

Oftentimes, memory can be short lived. It will be up to the players touring Oman to erase the nightmare in Kirtipur, Nepal. Nepal’s ace spinner, Sandeep Lamichhane,  who has gained international reputation playing for multiple Twenty20 leagues around the world, flummoxed USA batsmen in Kirtipur in February 2020, with a six-wicket haul (6-16) bagging him man of the match award during ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup League 2 match. 

Minor League Cricket (MiLC) was launched this summer and comprises 27 teams from four geographic divisions (Eastern, Western, Southern, and Central) competing at thirteen different venues across the nation. After multiple intra-divisional matches are played, the finals will be hosted at the scenic Church Street Park near Raleigh, North Carolina. The ultimate winners will take home $125,000 out of a total purse of $250,000. This will incidentally be the largest cash prize in American cricket history.

The format would certainly provide a platform for youngsters in America to hone in their cricketing skills and compete with the best of the country. It will provide a building block and lay a solid foundation for cricket to have a meaningful survival with a proper direction for the future. There are several youngsters who have an aspiration to play for the USA. This tournament is the launching pad for Major League Cricket which could potentially become a marquee cricket event in the United States. 

On the USA cricket website, Iain Higgins, CEO of USA cricket remarked, “The Minor League Cricket season has exceeded expectations in every capacity to date, with the regular season so far providing an unprecedented scale and level of competition in our domestic cricket pathway. One of the most pleasing aspects has been the scale of opportunity given to American players to develop their skills.”

This author attempted to reach Mr. Higgins, who was unable for comments. 

Talented players from India like Unmukt Chand have already started playing in Minor League Cricket. While enjoying playing for Silicon Valley Strikers, Chand will have an opportunity not only to show his talent in the game but also help and guide the youngsters in his team. While speaking to this author, Chand commented, “I am excited to be part of Minor League cricket for Strikers. The team is very good. We have a good environment. I enjoy being with my teammates. We try to spend time together on and off the field. It is a different type of challenge because sometimes we do not get very good wickets.”

But why is it that so many players are migrating to the USA?

“It’s evolving well. We are establishing a fantastic youth and senior structured programme. The minor league is ongoing which has given an opportunity to plenty of cricketers in the country and with the Major league dawning, there are plenty of players who have been coming over from both personal and professional growth point of view. Cricket is booming here and there’s plenty of international matches in the calendar moving forward both in the CWC league 2 qualifiers and the T-20 qualifiers,” coach Arunkumar said.

With the USA being a huge and financially thriving sport market, administrators and investors understandably would be attracted to the business aspect of cricket in the USA.

“It’s a sporting nation and cricket is on the rise. Exciting days moving forward,” Arunkumar said.

Niraj Patel, USA men’s team selector, commented,”The Development of youth cricket is happening nationwide. I am also excited about Minor League Cricket. It is headed in the right direction with improved infrastructure and continued improvements on the horizon. Compared to five years ago, the competition level has improved.”

Southpaw Patel played for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League. He also had a vast experience in playing Ranji Trophy in India from 1997-2015. He played a total of 101 First-Class matches and scored thirteen tons. 

While there will be challenges for USA Cricket in providing proper infrastructure, pitches, and facilities at different venues across the country, it will not be an insurmountable issue. They have the financial commitment from their sponsors. Toyota has been involved as a major sponsor for Minor League Cricket. Major League Cricket is the next big thing coming to America and several major cities will be excited to host their teams.

Through Willow TV, reaching cricket fans will be automatic, but more importantly it will be the stadiums which will provide more excitement for the fans. At present time, there is only one International Cricket Council certified cricket ground located in Lauderhill, Florida.

The USA is a sprawling nation with significant weather variations depending on the geographic location. California, Florida, and Texas are generally blessed with good weather conducive for cricket. More excitement awaits the cricket fans in the United States of America.

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