America Catching Cricket Fever?

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There are only a few common elements of culture that truly bring the world together. These cultural gems are Michael Jackson’s music, Pokémon Go, the FIFA World Cup, pizza and cricket. However, cricket stands out from the other four due to its impact on the geopolitical stage. Cricket is a sport that traveled with the British during the age of imperialism. Despite the countless atrocities committed by the queen’s empire around the world, one of the few beacons of positivity of its ruthless colonial rule was the emergence of a game that has given hope to millions.  

The Indian national cricket team against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the 2012 Commonwealth Bank series. Photo by Vijay Chennupati

This idea of hope could not be more true than in the war-torn country of Afghanistan. Cricket has shown the young people of Afghanistan that there is more to their country than the conflict that has engulfed the region for decades. Raees Ahmadzai, former captain of the Afghan national cricket team who spent his formative years in the refugee camps of Peshawar, Pakistan, stated that “For all the young people, the future was totally blind” without cricket. Cricketers are the pop star icons of Afghan culture and this emergence into the global market has helped bring a new perspective to people of other nations who only know the country as a war zone. The sport has opened up possibilities for new trade connections, potentially foreign capital investments and a dream for millions. Cricket has given Afghanis a newfound pride as they now field a team that participates in world tournaments with powerhouse contenders such as India, Australia and the West Indies. Cricket has done what decades of foreign policy and standard diplomacy have been unable to — it has helped spur impactful peace negotiations, bring happiness and provide role models to inspire the countries’ youth to strive for lasting Afghani prosperity.  

A cricketeer batsman hitting back the ball. (Photo from Pixabay)

One trend is blatantly obvious with the sport. The cricket pitch is the great equalizer. No matter how rich or connected one is, the only thing that matters on the field is the skill of the game. The former colonies started playing the game as a way to battle colonial oppression. Beating the British at their own game became a unifying force and these symbolic victories were a large factor in galvanizing populations of people toward demanding liberation. There were no conquerors and conquered on the field. There were only winners and losers and it meant everything to the people of former colonies to prove that regardless of politics, they were just as good, and in many cases better than the British, on the pitch.  

There is no better example of cricket justice than what happened on June 23, 1971. The context of this event is crucial. Prior to this cricket match, India had been through significant hardship since its independence in 1947. The country immediately underwent multiple national partitions, inherited a shattered economy, extremely high rates of poverty and a lack of true unity under the new sovereign regime. India was also reeling from economic aftershocks as a result of the British flooding its markets with English made products during its colonial rule. The English systematically priced out native artisans and small business owners, creating an Indian economy dependent on British export. India, which was known as the crown jewel of the British Empire for its vast riches and raw resources had been transformed into a captive market.  

On that fateful summer day of 1971, India defeated the British at their premiere sport while in front of their crowd. Then in 1983, India won the cricket World Cup for the first time against the West Indies. Two former colonies had reached the finals and played a match in Lord’s Cricket Ground in London in what is known as the cathedral of cricket. Cricket has now cemented itself as an international phenomenon, an exhibition of global culture and the second most popular sport on earth with an estimated 2.5 billion fans.  

So why didn’t America jump on the cricket hype train? Is a central theme of the stars and stripes not the freedom to which thousands of colonists took up arms and gave up their lives? Cricket never took off in America because it was rejected during revolutionary proceedings and then never took off due to the domestic appeal of baseball as a homegrown national pastime. However, this mentality towards the sport is changing with, as National Public Radio describes, the “browning of America.” This is in reference to the shifting of U.S. population demographics via immigration.  

Immigrant influence in America is incredible. People from abroad have shared their culture and innovations, and have now reintroduced cricket into the American market. Cricket now precisely fits the criteria of what the rapidly changing demographics of Americans love. It is an action packed spectacle of just a few hours thanks to the rule changes of the T-20 cricket format and the popularity boom of the Indian Premier League (IPL), essentially the NBA of cricket leagues. Moreover, cricket has a huge audience for television deals, is a great avenue for endorsements, captures demographics that are not interested in traditional American sports and it is the perfect sport to watch while eating snacks. There is already a U.S. based cricket organization that oversees seven different domestic leagues that has grabbed interest from immigrants of cricket loving countries and the kids of generational Americans alike. According to Peter Della Penna of the Washington Post, cricket is America’s fastest-growing sport, with an estimated 15 million fans and 200,000 players in the United States and has robust economic growth potential. Additionally, movies such as “Million Dollar Arm” that debuted in 2014 and grossed $39.2 million, along with countless documentaries, have generated an abundance of interest in the sport. The original goal of this movie was to attract the Indian population to baseball but quite the opposite has been happening.  

Interest and new streams of revenue have boosted the United States onto the national stage of cricket, especially after the team was elevated to Division Two status globally after defeating Singapore in the final match of the 2018 ICC World Cricket League Division Three. The team then went on to finish in the top four in the 2019 Division Two tournament which presents a real opportunity for the United States to advance to the 2022 Cricket World Cup Qualifier.  

If there’s one thing about America that is certain in the realm of sports, it is that the United States plays to win, especially if money and prestige are on the line. It is time the United States participates in global cricket and gets a taste of the pride and national unity that can only be felt on the pitch and at the wickets.  

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