Icons of Cricket Bring the Sport to America

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by Zhonghe Zhu
Teams led by legendary players from the Asia Pacific region played at several major venues across the US. Image: Cricket All Stars Facebook page.

American audiences were recently able to see the best cricket players in the world from the familiar confines of their local stadiums. Two teams of cricket legends completed a ten-day, three-city exhibition tour, with games played in New York, Houston, and Los Angeles. The teams consisted of players such as Sachin Tendulkar from India, whom TIME Magazine referred to as “The God of Cricket,” Shane Warne from Australia, considered the greatest spin bowler in the world, and other cricket legends from the West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and England.

Cricket is hugely popular in South Asia, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Around 1.5 billion people watched this year’s ICC Cricket World Cup on TV, making it the world’s second most popular sports behind soccer. Early in American history, cricket was also the top sport in the US, well before the invention of the sports that now dominate American fandom. The first international sporting event in the modern world was a cricket match between teams from the US and Canada. Cricket was a popular pastime among the founding fathers and was widely played in the US until baseball gained in popularity. Appreciation for cricket has been revived in the past few decades, as more people from cricket-loving countries immigrate to the US, which is now home to 15 million cricket fans.

New York, Houston, and Los Angeles are all home to large diaspora populations from South Asia or the Caribbean. They are also three of just seven cities in the US that have dedicated cricket grounds. Few Americans who are not of South Asian or Caribbean heritage have developed interest in the game. The sport suffers from a lack of visibility, a perception of the rules as being complex, as well as limited access to frequent professional matches in the US. Recognizing this, Tendulkar and Warne brought their teams to the world’s No.1 sports nation to help showcase the sport and sell cricket to Americans.

The three Cricket All-Stars games in the exhibition series were all played in baseball stadiums. In 2014, America’s Major League Baseball season opener was played in Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground in front of large crowds. The LA Dodgers played in that two-game series, and their stadium subsequently hosted one of the recent cricket matches.

Sports exchange between the US and Asia is hardly a new phenomenon. Cricket’s cousin, baseball, has long been a staple of sporting partnerships across the Pacific. In 2013, the NBA partnered with the Reliance Foundation and launched the Jr. NBA Program in India. The NFL opened an office in China in 2007 and multiple American football leagues are currently operating in the country.