Can a sport with substantial financial support and an established fan base among the ex-Commonwealth immigrant population of the United States succeed in the land of the free? Can the enthusiasm transmitted by Australian flat white producers in Brooklyn help spread cricket fever to all fifty states? Sometimes, it is difficult to envision how this endeavor could succeed—comparing the difficulty of discussing cricket with Americans to explaining climate change to a ferret. However, a template of sorts exists for MLC. From its “anchor” fan base among the country’s Hispanic migrant population, Major League Soccer has expanded at such a rate over the past two decades that it has surpassed hockey as the fourth most popular sport in the United States by most metrics.
Sport’s global profusion of formats and competitions
Cricket is more challenging to sell to the American public than soccer due to the sport’s global profusion of formats and competitions, which lacks the clarity of football’s cultural hierarchy, in which Europe’s top domestic leagues are universally regarded as the pinnacle of competition. But if any “foreign” sport is to succeed in the United States, why not this one?
MLC’s supporters believe they have what it takes to win over the American Midwest. Each founding franchisor has committed to constructing a stadium in its home city so the league can evolve into a home-and-away competition in the coming years. Mehta maintains that the league is not an attempt to attract Indian viewers but rather a direct wager on the sport’s potential appeal to Americans.
The league makes all the proper noises regarding professional “pathways” for domestic cricketers, local talent development, etc. Teams must accommodate a minimum of nine local players within the squad’s $1.15 million salary cap; up to nine foreign players can be selected, but only six are permitted per starting XI. Most games for the inaugural tournament have been scheduled at night to accommodate US spectators rather than during hours more suitable for the Indian television audience. Mehta states, “Americans dislike being lectured about a sport played elsewhere.”
“However, if the sport is being played in their neighboring country, they become absolute sports fanatics and will attempt anything. Our opinion is that T20 is a phenomenal sport for US audiences and US consumers. It suits what Americans like to consume: it’s three hours long, there’s a lot of action, and it has some similarities to baseball along with a number of compelling differences.”
Format of the inaugural tournament
The format of the inaugural tournament is uncomplicated: each of the six teams will play each other once, and the top four teams will compete in three qualification and elimination games before the 30th of July final. Major League Cricket promises a 30-camera, world-class broadcast production at both game venues, which will be broadcast live on Willow TV; a significant broadcast partner will be announced before the first match. Mehta expects the league to expand to ten teams with a more extended season in the coming years.
The teams for the inaugural season are genuinely competitive and evenly matched, except the Seattle Orcas, who are likely to rely significantly on the varying abilities of Quinton de Kock. The San Francisco Unicorns have tremendous hitting power (Aaron Finch, Marcus Stoinis, and Matthew Wade).
Texas Super Kings
The Texas Super Kings, on the other hand, rely heavily on du Plessis and an aging Dwayne Bravo. Still, they also have dual-passport Australian-American “local” Cameron Stevenson, the only player in the tournament whose profile photo appears on the official MLC website and the “about” page of a Melbourne civil engineering firm. Stevenson played professional cricket for Tasmania for two years until 2018 and now works as an engineer for the company that transformed Grand Prairie Stadium into a cricket ground; his American mother qualifies him as a local for MLC purposes.
Peculiarities like these give the MLC unique appeal, but the league’s enchantment is more expansive than its lesser-known teams. Stephen Fleming, Lasith Malinga, and Shane Watson, three renowned ex-players, are all involved in the MLC as coaches. MI New York has an exceptional bowling attack that includes Rabada, Trent Boult, and Jason Behrendorff, but Rashid Khan, the captain of Afghanistan and the top-ranked T20 bowler in the world, is its crowning glory.
Major League Cricket presents the tantalizing prospect of a genuine Afghan superstar – a man who grew up in the crucible of the US occupation and whose family was forced into exile for several years during the worst of the violence – displaying his wrist-spinning artistry on an American playing field. Despite the sport’s lengthy history in the United States, cricket’s most recent assault on the country feels novel, like the setting for a new encounter between two regions of the globe that have rarely understood each other in anything but antagonistic terms.