If there was ever a time that cricket could make inroads in the US, this is it. The four major sports in the country are still in various states of figuring out what to do next. And, of the four, baseball seems the most confused and the furthest from having a concrete plan on how to put the game back on the field. While not exactly "the national pastime," televised cricket -- or at least an introduction to cricket for people unfamiliar with it -- would give viewers here a taste of guy-whipping-a-ball-at-a-guy-with-a-bat action while laying the foundation for future growth and development in this country.
I'd been wanting to write this blog for a while, but was neck-deep in a book project that I finally wrapped up. Maybe it was for the best. My head-scratching bewilderment at why NO ONE would take a chance on televising any sort of cricket content has continued to grow. As I write this, ESPN -- The Worldwide Leader in Sports -- is showing a cornhole tournament. Last night, it aired a two-hour documentary about Foosball. Normally, on a Saturday afternoon in June, I'd be flipping between the Red Sox game and the NBA and NHL play-offs. Instead, in addition to the beanbag toss on ESPN, I'm looking at replays of games I've already seen and -- magically -- a live golf tournament. (To scratch my baseball itch, I've been DVR-ing ESPN's live 3:30 am broadcast of Korea Baseball Organization games. Unfortunately, my morning Twitter feed usually ruins the ending for me before I get a chance to watch.)
If someone was serious about trying to grow the game of cricket here and win new fans, this would be the time to do it. Baseball fans are starved for anything resembling the game. From the beginning, the goal of CricAmerica has been to demystify the game and make it accessible to sports fans here. Especially baseball fans. The Rules section of the site has been written through the filter of baseball. And both through the site and in person, I've been able to explain the basics of cricket to anyone who knows the basics of baseball.
But not all cricket is created equally. There are very few people in the US more excited about the upcoming England-West Indies Test series than I am, but, obviously, I'm the anomaly in this country. In my mind, Test cricket is the greatest sport in world. But it took a couple years for me to be able to understand it well enough to draw that conclusion. There's a good chance that when the first Test starts next month, it'll be the only bat-and-ball sport available in the US during normal waking hours. But that doesn't guarantee it'll do anything to enhance the game's popularity here.
Sadly, on the surface, Test cricket plays into every dismissive and close-minded American's stereotype of the sport. Two teams wearing the same all-white uniform. A batter endlessly bunting soft groundballs to three guys playing at the slip position. Polite applause. Without context and an appreciation of the strategy of the game, Test cricket, to the uninitiated, makes baseball look like the most exciting thing ever invented: surfing-meets-jiujitsu-meets-javelin-throwing on a rollercoaster being chased by giant spiders.
I'm just some clown living in Boston, Massachusetts, but what about this? A charity T20 match between England and The West Indies. (I realize that neither side's top T20 players are in England and have been properly quarantined, but both teams would be equally hamstrung and, besides, it's a charity event.) Live on a Saturday or Sunday at 5:00 pm in England would mean it would air live here on the east coast at noon (9:00 am on the west coast) and at 9:30 pm in India. Two live televised golf events in the last month raised over $25 million for COVID-19 relief. There's no reason why the most popular and action-filled form of the second-most popular sport in the world airing live to a global audience couldn't achieve or surpass those numbers.
Plus, it would showcase a version of the sport that most Americans don't even know exists. I'm no marketing wizard, but it seems that whatever hoops had to be jumped through to make this possible would be dwarfed by the potential upside. It'd be a win-win-win for COVID-19 relief, for sports fans around the world desperate for something live to watch, and for the growth of the game in this country.
Of course, I might just be wrong about the major broadcasting entities' desire to grow the game in this country. NBC's sports channel aired Australia's T20 Big Bash League a few years ago, but aired it live in the middle of the night with no replays at more convenient hours. And ESPN, who airs cricket in many parts of the world, doesn't seem to want to introduce it to the US even though it provides multiple channels to just about every house in the country.
And even those that do broadcast here may be leery about growing the game stateside. Right now, Willow owns the broadcasting/streaming rights to most of what's shown here. If, by some bizarre quirk, the game suddenly achieved massive popularity in the US, Willow would be forced to go up against the very deep pockets of ABC/ESPN, NBC/Comcast, CBS, and Fox if it wanted to continue showing -- and profiting from -- the sport. Willow might be content with having all the pieces of a very small pie versus fighting for whatever slices they can afford of a much bigger pie.
The window is closing, but does anyone care?
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