FORT LAUDERDALE, United States: Cricket’s ability to grow its global presence beyond its heartlands, while still maintaining the quality at the highest level, will be tested over the coming month in the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and the United States.

The ninth edition of the tournament, in the fastest and most explosive form of the game, will be the biggest ever after the decision of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to expand the field from 16 nations to 20.

It will also be the first ever major ICC event to be held, in part, in the United States, a country where attempts to grow the sport have consistently failed.

Three American venues — in Florida, Texas and New York — will host 16 of the group stage games including the marquee match between India and Pakistan which will be played in Long Island, New York.

The rest of the tournament will be held in the West Indies, including the Super Eight stage, the semifinals and the final, which will be played at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados.

While cricket is widely played at a recreational level in the United States, with strong presences in all three of the states that have been chosen for games, organizers are realistic about the chances of “converting” mainstream American sports fans.

Instead, they expect that the large immigrant communities from cricket-loving backgrounds, including thousands of India fans in particular, will pack the stadiums.

“I think, number one, we want to celebrate those that are already fanatical lovers of cricket. They deserve to see the best players in the world come into their backyard and have that chance,” T20 World Cup USA, Inc. chief executive Brett Jones told AFP.

“Number two, I think it’s about spiking curiosity in the game,” he said.

The ICC also sees the tournament as a launch pad toward the sport’s return to the Olympics for Los Angeles 2028, when the T20 format will be used.

Major League Cricket, a T20 tournament, was launched last year and also stands to benefit from any growth in interest in the big-hitting, spectacular shortest form.

But it is not only the American market that the ICC is focused upon — the expansion of the tournament has opened up opportunities for newer cricket nations to compete on the big stage.

In recent years, the sport has been able to expand outside of its traditional strongholds with Ireland and Afghanistan earning places in the 12-strong elite with full Test status.

But the ICC see the shortest format as the perfect vehicle for growing the game and this year’s edition will feature three T20 World Cup debutants in the USA, Canada and Uganda.

Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Oman are among the other nations who are relatively new to the big stage and who will be looking to make their mark and grab some attention with an upset win.

With the teams drawn in four groups of five teams, with just the top two advancing, none of the smaller nations are expected to progress beyond the group stage and there is a danger the pool stage could mainly be a ‘weeding out’ process.

India, winners of the first edition in 2007, are the favorites, with their line-up packed with players steeled from the annual Indian Premier League.

Veterans Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli could be playing in their final big tournament and are desperate to make up for defeat in the ODI World Cup final last year.

Despite being the epicenter of the modern game, India have not won a major title since the 2013 Champions Trophy.

Australia, winners of the ODI World Cup last year along with the World Test Championship, opted to leave out their veteran batsman Steve Smith but big-hitting David Warner with the bat and pacemen Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins provide plenty of experience.

“There’s five, six or seven teams that can win it and we know that in tournament play it’s all about getting things right at the right time and winning in big moments,” said Australia captain Mitchell Marsh.

Among those contenders, England are the defending champions, but will be without the star of their 2022 triumph Ben Stokes, with the all-rounder managing his fitness after a knee operation and they will look to skipper Jos Buttler to provide the fireworks with the bat.

Co-hosts West Indies won the tournament in 2012 and 2016 and while the Caribbean team have struggled in the longer formats, they remain a threat in 20-over cricket and are hoping that they can benefit from familiarity with the surfaces in the region.

South Africa, New Zealand and Pakistan will all fancy their chances of making an impact in a tournament which always produces surprises.

By admin

Leave a Reply