Will the ICC T20 World Cup 2024 help cricket finally take off in the US?

Cricket has been historically unsuccessful in winning over the United States, so how can the T20 World Cup help flip the script?

USA Cricket Vice-Captain Aaron Jones
USA cricket team's vice-captain Aaron Jones will have a key role to play in his team's success at the T20 World Cup [File: Chandan Khanna/AFP]

Is cricket really coming to the United States?

The game has long desired to conquer the land of dreams, and it won’t get a better shot at finally making it big.

As the United States hosts 16 matches of the latest ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, there are high hopes that cricket can finally make significant inroads in a lucrative and populous market.

The stars have seemingly aligned: Following the T20 World Cup, the second edition of the privately run Major League Cricket franchise tournament will bring some of the game’s biggest stars to the US and, in 2028, cricket will feature at the LA Olympics for the first time since 1900.

However, cricket in the US has a history of poor governance, riven by factions and financial mismanagement. The sport’s growth has been hampered by the country’s sheer size and diversity of cricket cultures – factors also considered potential strengths.

Here’s the lowdown on cricket’s history in the US and a peek into its future:

Is there an existing cricket culture in the USA?

When USA and Canada meet in the opening match on June 1, there will be plentiful reminders that these two countries played the first international cricket match in 1844, when Canada won the two-day fixture.

But the game took a backseat until the latter half of the 20th century when increased immigration – particularly from the Indian subcontinent – saw the game grow – with little cohesion – in communities from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh as well as the Caribbean.

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How is cricket played?

Does USA have a cricket board?

A national governing board, the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA), was formed in 1965 but it struggled to unify the diverse and siloed cricket communities for the next three decades.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), at times, implemented sanctions – withdrawing USA from tournaments, withholding funds and suspensions – all of which failed to overcome the fundamental issues.

In 2017, the USACA was expelled from the ICC.

So who’s in charge now?

A new governing body, USA Cricket (USAC), was formed in 2019 and the USA was officially back in the ICC’s fold as an associate member. There was a new board and a new constitution, but the underlying problems of geography, culture and power struggles remained.

The following year, after extensive research on potential expansion markets, the ICC identified the USA as the game’s most desirable target. This was largely down to its size, economy, broadcast market and the existing cricket infrastructure and culture.

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Who is running the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup?

The decision to host T20 World Cup fixtures in the US was merely the first step in a long-term strategy.

The inclusion of the US in the West Indies’ successful bid to host this year’s tournament presented a golden opportunity to expand the sport’s profile but USA Cricket was in no position to facilitate a major event.

In October 2022, the ICC installed its own local organising committee – T20 USA Inc – to oversee the event.

What’s wrong with USA Cricket?

  • In the five years since its inception, USA Cricket has had minimal and – at times – no full-time staff. It has instead relied on a mix of temporary contractors, consultants and volunteers.
  • It has been issued multiple sanctions by the ICC and – in 2022 – its funding was temporarily suspended.
  • It is currently operating without a CEO.
  • The selection process for the T20 World Cup squad was mired in controversy and excluded numerous eligible players.
  • The head coach, former Australian international Stuart Law, wasn’t appointed until mid-April.

How good is USA’s T20 World Cup squad?

On the field, the team has had an encouraging build-up, trouncing Canada 4-0 and defeating Bangladesh 2-1 in bilateral T20 series.

Those results are astonishing considering USA had not played a T20 International since the World Cup qualifiers in July 2022. Since USA Cricket was admitted, the national men’s side has played just seven T20Is outside qualifying events. Since the start of 2022, they have played a total of twelve T20Is. By comparison, Nepal has played 36 in the same period.

 Ali Khan and Monank Patel
Ali Khan and captain Monank Patel are among the standout players from the USA [Robert Cianflone/Getty Images via AFP]

Have things improved since the US was announced as the co-host?

The publicly available minutes of USAC board meetings show that off-field conflicts continue to boil over.

In the lead-up to the biggest cricket tournament ever held on US soil, there have been squabbles over the constitution, allegations of racial discrimination and disagreements on the process of choosing a new CEO.

A lawsuit filed by two directors against five fellow directors and a former CEO was dropped in 2022, but in 2023 another lawsuit was filed against USAC by former USA captain and league director Sushil Nadkarni.

At the most recent board meeting on March 27, Chair Venu Pisike “reaffirmed that board members MUST conduct themselves professionally and stop interrupting the board proceedings and being disrespectful to fellow board members”.

How might cricket grow after the T20 World Cup?

Amid concerns about USAC’s governance, the ICC is forging ahead with plans to create a lasting legacy from the T20 World Cup. Profits from the matches held in Nassau County (New York), Broward County (Florida) and Grand Prairie (Texas) will be funnelled into cricket’s growth in the US.

ICC’s game development programme, Playground to Podium, aims to reach one million children – half of them female – by the 2028 LA Olympics, and regional development manager for the Americas, Fara Gorsi, is confident of success.

“By the time we reach the LA Games it will be flourishing in all three cities as a minimum,” Gorsi told Al Jazeera. “And [it] will create a framework that will then be deployed across the states.

“If we want to see a different community grow cricket in the USA it has to come organically through schools, through new leaders, new communities, parents, teachers.”

Gorsi says the complexity of the US sporting system requires a targeted and flexible approach in each district as the ICC rolls out resources, initially in the three host cities, to develop facilitators and coaches via an entry-level training programme called Criiio. There are long-term plans to permeate the college system, a key for any sport in the US.

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Parmanand Sarju, founder of the Long Island Youth Cricket Academy, instructs young cricket players during practice at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, New York [Phil Marcelo/AP]

Is there a way to improve the situation?

The ICC has expressed concerns to USAC and has given them a July deadline to appoint a CEO. They can apply sanctions of varying severity but pressure will also be applied by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).

To become certified as cricket’s national governing body, USAC will have to meet USOPC’s rigorous criteria and standards.

As for the legacy programme, the ICC has not yet discussed a timeframe or mechanism for any possible future handover of the development programme and its funding to USA Cricket. Gorsi hopes it will eventually happen but admits there are significant barriers to overcome.

“Without wanting to sound disrespectful, they’ve held it on to like it’s their sport,” said Gorsi.

“If we grow it organically we’ll grow faster. We need to take the shackles off and allow it to be fun and have that accessibility across the country.

“Once we break some of those barriers down and allow the US audience to be part of this wonderful game that we all love, I think it will spread like wildfire.”

Source: Al Jazeera