T20 World Cup: Anticipation builds as cricket takes its shot at cracking America

Growth into new territories can only be good for the game with tournament set to begin on Sunday

India stars Rohit Sharma, left, and teammate Virat Kohli are among the big name players who will be on show in New York. AFP
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New York, New York. If cricket can make it there, maybe it really can make it anywhere.

This T20 World Cup might be the sport’s most joined-up attempt to achieve what it has often spoken of doing in the past, albeit always in nebulous terms. That being to crack the American market.

Its biggest fixture is being put on at a 34,000-capacity pop up ground in a park, 33 miles east of Manhattan. It brings to mind the days when football tried to lay down roots in the US by bringing Pele, plus a number of other world stars, to play in the start-up North American Soccer League.

The great Brazilian played his first matches for New York Cosmos at a decrepit stadium next to an expressway, on a field so patchy it had to be painted green.

At least the T20 World Cup is a step or two ahead of that, even if it will be hosting the sport’s brightest stars at a temporary venue.

Cricket might not quite have a Pele per se to sell it. But in the form of the India of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, plus the Pakistan of Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi, it certainly has pull, particularly with the vast subcontinental diaspora of the US.

India versus Pakistan is one of seven fixtures being played at the New York venue over the space of 10 days. How the place holds up to that weight of traffic will be curious to see.

The scaffolding stands at the Nassau County International Cricket Ground have the look of those at the Dubai Sevens. If they can create a similar atmosphere to the annual rugby festival in the Middle East, the organisers will be on to a winner.

The outfield has been delivered by the company who work with the Yankees and the Mets in Major League Baseball, as well Inter Miami in football.

The wicket itself, which will be under an even greater scrutiny than a usual match day, has been designed using the expertise of the curator at the Adelaide Oval in Australia.

The turf for the pitches was grown in Florida, to mitigate the harsher winter up north in New York, before being transported 20 hours to the venue via 20 semi-trailer lorries.

There will be fixtures in Texas and Florida, too. And if all that doesn’t do the trick, there is a second chance in four years’ time. The sport will have two shots at it, with cricket set to be reintroduced to the Olympic movement at the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.

Having new grounds in an unfamiliar territory can only be a good thing for the sport. There feels like an agreeable balance between old and new, with the World Cup set to reach its crescendo at one of its most historic venues, in Barbados.

With 20 teams, up from 16 last time out, and 12 when the T20 World Cup first started, there are also new faces to go with the more recognisable ones.

Even before it has started, this tournament has already had one major upset. There is a split of 11 Test-playing nations to nine Associates. The odd team out of the Test 12 are Zimbabwe, who were beaten to the African qualifying berths by Namibia and Uganda.

It means the audience will be denied seeing Sikandar Raza, one of the world’s top all-rounders, but gives scope for so many others to make themselves a star.

Who will be the John Davison of 2003? Or the Kevin O’Brien of 2011? Or the Karthik Meiyappan of two years ago?

There are plenty of candidates who have the potential to break out from cricket’s margins and announce themselves on the world stage.

Dipendra Singh Airee, of Nepal, and Charles Amini, of Papua New Guinea, will definitely show that the best fielders in the world are not confined to the ones you see on the main channels all the time.

JJ Smit and Gerhard Erasmus will likely display the fact that Namibian cricket does not, in fact, start and end with David Wiese.

Ali Khan, a former mobile phone salesman, will carry the fight for the USA as a fast bowler of great distinction. Aqib Ilyas, who learnt the sport on the sand pitches of Muscat, will either catch the eye with his leg spin, his off spin, or his batting – or potentially all three.

Or maybe the most compelling hero of all could be Frank Nsubuga, the 43-year-old Ugandan spinner. He made his international debut 27 years ago.

Imagine if he were to take wickets of Nicholas Pooran or Kane Williamson and help create a shock win for the tournament debutants against the might of West Indies or New Zealand.

By expanding its reach, cricket has given itself more chances of writing a Hollywood script or two than ever before.

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Updated: May 31, 2024, 6:13 AM