June 19, 2024


Will the T20 World Cup help cricket gain traction in the US?

(Image credit: ICC’s X post)

If you’re an avid cricket fan, the news from the ongoing T20 World Cup might’ve been surprising. Team USA, the home team for this tournament, have pulled off some upsets. The team, made up of South Asian-origin players, have punched well above their weight.

The USA isn’t the first place most people think about for cricket. It’s about as foreign as driving on the right side of the road. When an Indian-origin software engineer from Oracle dismisses Virat Kohli, it’s bound to make the news. But what does the future hold for the sport in the USA? Can the T20 tournament kickstart a cricketing culture?


Surprisingly, cricket has been around in the USA since its introduction in the early 1700s. It was played by British sailors in states like Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina. After a particularly harsh winter during the Revolutionary War, George Washington wanted to boost morale among the troops and played a game of “wicket” with them in 1778.

Thanks to English migrants who settled on the East Coast, the sport spread to places like New York and Philadelphia. While it was mostly for the native upper middle class, in Philadelphia, workers and the middle class also participated.

In Canada, the sport spread fast and became quite popular in the late 18th century. Its first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, declared cricket the nation’s first sport.

By the mid-19th century, almost every American city had a cricket club. New York’s St. George’s Cricket Club was seen as the best since they had the best English-born players in the area. A match between the USA and Canada in 1844 is regarded by some as the first international sporting event. This was serious business as bets aggregated to over $100,000, and the crowd numbered at least 10,000.

As the USA’s population grew and spread to the west and south, so did cricket. It’s believed Abraham Lincoln went to watch Chicago play Milwaukee in 1849.

However, the tide began to turn against cricket. Sports like baseball and gridiron football began to take hold thanks to an aura of American exceptionalism. A blurb in the Brooklyn Eagle read in part, “Cricket is essentially an English game”. What didn’t help was that cricket clubs consciously didn’t open up the sport to the masses and the working class.

When the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs was formed in 1876, people traded their cricket bats for baseball ones.

Cut to the ongoing T20 World Cup, where Team USA upset Pakistan and qualified for the next stage. The sport seemingly flickered back into the public consciousness of Americans, most of whom probably didn’t know they had a national cricket team. A look at the roster, and it’s easy to see the influence of migrants from this side of the world.

Like football or soccer, as the Americans call it, cricket still has a long way to go in the country. Can the T20 tournament do anything for cricket in the USA? Does its future look bright?

VIEW: Potential waiting to be tapped into

Part of the reason why cricket has a good future in the USA is due to Indian and other Asian-origin residents who came to the country and are now promoting the sport among locals. Some have left lucrative careers in Silicon Valley. The launch of the Minor League Cricket in 2021 and the Major League Cricket in 2023 was just the beginning. Investors in these leagues include current and former executives of companies like Microsoft, Adobe, and Amazon. Apart from the money, they’ve got credibility and connections.

The T20 World Cup witnessed the biggest game on US soil, with over 30,000 in attendance to watch India play Pakistan. The USA’s victory against Pakistan also made ripples. The conversation around the sport has begun in earnest. Explaining it to Americans might be complicated, but local sports journalists are doing their bit to Americanise the sport akin to baseball to get them to understand the rules.

The T20 World Cup also reflects a global sporting shift that’s in the US’ favour. Traditional markets like the UK and Europe have been conquered, and everyone’s looking at Asia and the Middle East. Four years from now, cricket will be played at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Perhaps cricket can take some cues from football (soccer). It wasn’t an overnight sensation. But with the performance of the women’s team, more sponsors, and stars like Lionel Messi coming to play, its popularity has skyrocketed.

COUNTERVIEW: On the backfoot

Americans are quite used to the sports they have and religiously follow – basketball, baseball, American football, etc. These generate massive TV ratings and cash flows. It’s understandable why some might be hesitant. Cricket has multiple formats and various rules that differ for each format. While the T20 tournament garnered some attention, no less thanks to the USA’s performance, it remains to be seen if that interest goes beyond the diaspora population. It needs to if the sport is to grow.

Some polling showed interest among locals was low. A survey by YouGov revealed that only 1 in 5 Americans were interested in the T20 World Cup and 46% of those interested were unaware that matches would be played in the USA. When the USA beat Pakistan, a list prepared by Sports Media Watch showed that the game didn’t even make it into the top 30 most-watched sports programs of that day.

To make the sport popular, it’s going to take more than money and a tournament here and there. It’s already on the back foot since there’s little to no grassroots activity. There’s no school or community cricket for kids. For the women’s game, the numbers are dismal. Only 400 of the 2 lakh registered players in the US are women. “Foreign sports” like cricket will have a tough time breaking into the US market where established ones have embedded themselves into the culture and local communities.

Reference Links:

  • The History of Cricket in the United States – Smithsonian Magazine
  • Born In The USA: How International Cricket Began In New York – Forbes
  • ‘Land of opportunity’: USA is cricket’s bold new frontier once again – The Guardian
  • How cricket is baseballing its way into US homes – India Today
  • How the USA’s shock cricket triumph reflects a global sporting and geopolitical transformation – CNN
  • Run, USA, run, between the wickets: What’s required for America to actually take to cricket – The Economic Times
  • Cricket is trying to take the US by storm, but is it working? – The Telegraph
  • Cricket’s plan to conquer the U.S. – MSNBC
  • Cricket fever in the US is low-grade at best – Deccan Herald

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The T20 World Cup can help cricket gain traction in the US.

b) The T20 World Cup won’t help cricket gain traction in the US.


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