The quintessential sights, sounds and smells of cricket are people dressed in white running around on lush green landscapes, leather on willow and grated cheese sandwiches in the pavilion at tea time.
Cheerleaders, fireworks and in-game music?
Well, many T20 competitions have tried to ‘Americanise’ their form of cricket, but now the original and best will get their chance as the sport heads across the pond for another go at cracking the United States.
Major League Cricket is a new tournament on American soil that has been backed to the tune of £100 million by investors from a diverse selection of companies that include Microsoft.
It will utilise the franchise model popularised by the IPL, and the hope is that the signing of some big name players – Mitchell Marsh, Aaron Finch and former England ace Liam Plunkett among them – will help to win over new fans to the sport in a country where the popularity of basketball, American football and baseball seems unbeatable.
But can cricket finally crack America?
What is Major League Cricket?
You’ve heard of Major League Soccer, right? Well, here comes the cricket version.
There have been past attempts to introduce America to cricket – more on those shortly, but none really took hold. So what will be different this time?
Well, a number of investors, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Adobe chairman Shantanu Narayen and Venky Harinarayan – who sold his firm Junglee Corp to Amazon for £220 million – have deep pockets and a deeper love of cricket. That’s a good starting point.
While Major League Soccer has largely been driven by world-renowned stars that are past their best, Major League Cricket has attracted players from around the globe that are high quality performers in the here and now.
Plunkett and Finch are recent-enough World Cup winners, Marsh, Marcus Stoinis and Quinton de Kock are still hot properties in the IPL auctions and Anrich Nortje, courtesy of his 92mph bombs, is one of the quickest bowlers on the planet.
Six franchises, such as the Los Angeles Knight Riders and Seattle Orcas, will contest the inaugural edition in the T20 format, with games to be played at the 15,000 capacity Grand Prairie Stadium in Texas – the former home to the Texas AirHogs baseball team.
A lack of grounds with the appropriate facilities was the reason behind the MLC’s delayed start from 2022, and explains why just one venue will be used to host all of the games.
But if the maiden season proves to be a success, who knows how deeply embedded cricket can become in America’s sporting consciousness.
Does the USA Have a Cricket Team?
The United States have got a team and a structure in place designed to improve their results, which so far have been something of a mixed bag.
They gained full ICC membership in 2018 for T20 games, and they can now also contest the ODI Cricket World Cup qualifiers against their fellow ‘lesser’ nations – in League 2, played between 2019 and 2023, they finished above Papua New Guinea and UAE in the table but did not qualify for the next phase of the qualification process.
In 2019, they tied a tri-nation series with Namibia and Papua New Guinea, where Florida was given one of its first tastes of cricket, and so the US are becoming somewhat more competitive.
And so they should be. Of their current squad, Ian Holland is on the pro books at Hampshire, while Saurabh Netravalkar and Gajanand Singh have previously represented India and the West Indies respectively at Under-19s level. Rusty Theron was formerly drafted by the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.
What Cricket Leagues Has America Had?
In the early 2000s, a private company – Pro Cricket – was formed in a bid to launch a new T20 competition in the United States; the country’s first-ever tilt at formalised club cricket.
The founders did eventually get it up and running in 2004, but poor attendances and the failure of the American Desi TV channel – a key partner in the league – ultimately meant that Pro Cricket lasted for just one season.
The next cab off the rank was the American Premiere League. Originally scheduled for launch in 2009, no games were played due to a host of legal and logistical reasons. The idea was revisited in 2021, and while the competition did finally take place it did not capture the imagination of the American audience.
But Major League Cricket appears to be on firmer ground. Backed by the governing body USA Cricket, the impressive list of investors has been supplemented by a $1 billion equity raise from American Cricket Enterprises (ACE), with franchises in the cities that have shown the most interest in the sport – Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Texas – leading from the front.