US T20

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple days about the US Twenty20 tournament, now tentatively scheduled to be held in July of next year. According to the article linked to above, it will feature six franchises, three in New York and three in San Francisco. The league is being formed by Cricket Holdings America, which is a partnership between the US Cricket Association and, interestingly enough, New Zealand Cricket.

There is also talk of international players participating in the tournament. And that news is what prompted me to post about the league here on the blog.

First of all, as a cricket fan, I can tell you that the league is going to suck. It’s going to be nothing but “razmattaz” and pop music and plastic pitches. Heck they aren’t even going to call it cricket, they are going to call it Twenty20. The cricket itself will probably be, well, okay. What I have watched of the Bangladesh Premiere League and the Sri Lanka Premiere League tells me that the cricket in the US tournament will be loose and fun and crowd pleasing. The Ashes it won’t be, but it also won’t be super bloody terrible. It just won’t be cricket. If that makes any sense at all.

Cricinfo commentors are dismissing the tournament out right, however. “You’re having a laugh, Cricket Holdings America, if you think your silly little league is going to even make a ripple in world cricket,” is what they are saying.

And I must say that I disagree.

Niche sport leagues work in America. Major League Soccer and the National Lacrosse League are just two examples. Americans like novelty, and they like to drink beer and watch sports. So honestly it really could work.

Major League Soccer of course is starting to take off because of the growth of the youth game over the last two generations. People, like me, who grew up playing the game throughout the 80s, are now old enough and have enough expendable income to shell out for premium cable channels, Arsenal kits, and trips to London. When I am at the local watering hole watching football, the people around are all about my age, perhaps trending a bit younger.

The National Lacrosse League is a very different story. While it is growing in popularity as a youth sport, it has no way near the rec sport pedigree that soccer has. Anecdotally, based on the one National Lacrosse League match I have attended (St Paul versus Rochester at the Xcel Energy Center this past February) the crowds attending those matches are not at all related to young people whatsoever. The atmosphere was not the slightest bit kid-friendly. It was not decidedly anti-children either, but obviously the event organizers were trying to appeal to a more adult and blue collar fan. As such, the crowd consisted of primarily middle-to-working class adults drinking beer. And based on what I saw there that day (sizable and passionate crowd), there is room for more sports in this country.

People say that the American entertainment landscape is just too crowded for another sport. They say that the “big four” of baseball, football, hockey, and basketball are plenty, thankyouverymuch. But personally, I think that is rubbish. Motor sports are just as popular as hockey. And then there is MMA. And golf. And tennis. And the aforementioned sports of soccer and lacrosse. There is plenty of room for cricket.

And so using the National Lacrosse League as an example, I think the US T20 league has a legitimate shot at success. Furthermore, cricket has something going for it that lacrosse did not: a built in fan base. Legions of Southeast Asians have immigrated to the United States over the last 20 years. Not to mention the strong West Indian and Afro-Caribbean culture on the east coast.

Unfortunately, the built in fan base could prove to be a detriment in the end. White America might very well steer clear of what they will perceive as a sport for brown people. I know that sounds awful and cynical, but I am afraid it is true. Even in Obama’s America, racism invades academia, the private business sector, the entertainment industry, and yes even athletics.

The optimist in me likes to think that Americans will embrace the multi-cultural aspect of cricket, but I really doubt it. There is a reason Irish national sports like hurling and Gaelic football never took hold here: because Americans didn’t like the Irish. And it took 30 years for basketball to rid itself of the unhealthy and gross stereotype that it is a sport only for urban black youth. People loved the Boston Celtics in the 80s because they fielded five white dudes. And even more recently Allen Iverson was given flack for his corn rows being too “ghetto”.

That said, lacrosse is the national sport of (gasp) Canada, and Americans love to bag on Canadians, so maybe I am wrong about all of this.

I hope I am.

To sum it all up: the US T20 has a shot, and it should not be so easily dismissed by those in World Cricket.

The cricket itself, however, is going to suck.

Labored Days

It is Labor Day weekend here in the States, also known as the unofficial end of summer. It’s a melancholy time…memories of heading back to school, the smell of burning of leaves, a chill in the air, the coming of winter – but also of fresh starts. Of change. I am always a little sad over Labor Day weekend, but quietly hopeful, as well. Especially this year, as my life is about to become about nothing but change, and hope.

Also the three day weekend is always nice.

Today was also the last international match of the summer at Lord’s. England beat South Africa by six wickets to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

Now of course there is the fifth ODI at Nottingham to come, and the three T20s at Durham, Old Trafford, and Edgbaston, but the last match at Lord’s always gives me that “well, summer is well and truly over” feeling.

*

I had a whole bit here about last matches of the summer at Lord’s, but the direction was not what I wanted to head in. Lord’s has hosted a lot of matches in late August, though most of them in the last 40 years or so. Tests against the West Indies, ODIs against Pakistan, the Ashes. In all of those matches surely the shadows were growing long and there was probably a chill in the air or if it was hot, it was that false, fleeting hot. Autumn heat is different than summer heat. The overall point being: the last match of summer at Lord’s always represents the beginning of autumn.

I mentioned in a previous post that I mark time by the Olympics, but I guess in a lot of ways sport overall marks time for me, as sad as that must sound. The last match at Lord’s means the end of summer; the World Series means a chill in the air and leaves under feet; the Boxing Day cricket and football represents the darkest, coldest days of winter; baseball’s opening day is wet, sloppy late spring; the FA cup final is brilliant early summer sunshine; and then there is the first international match of the summer at Lord’s and the skies are deep blue and high and it’s light out until 10pm and the whole world is alive with summer; and then the cycle starts all over again.

I talk a lot about what sport means to me on the blog, and I always mention how it all makes me feel a little silly sometimes. But it is nice to have something to mark the passage of time by. Some use holidays, or birthdays, or anniversaries, and I guess I use those, too. But special days only happen but once a year, while sport is, thanks to Sky and ESPN, a year long, daily, adventure. I guess what I am trying to say is that it is okay to let sport be important to you. Because it is more than just grown men chasing a ball around. It is time and the passage of time. It is aging. It is change. It is a fresh start. Nearly every single day we open ourselves up and let sport mark the time for us. And that’s not really a bad thing, I don’t think.

Today was late summer, Lord’s, Arsenal at Anfield.

It was not all that, of course, because it was other, more personal, things too. But we all mark time in different ways. When I look back on today, I will remember Podolski’s gut busting 70 yard run and his first Arsenal goal and I will feel the autumn heat on my shoulders and remember how it was during those last few bittersweet days in our current house.

I will remember Bell’s steady knock at Lord’s and I will feel the evening September chill and the hope that is change and fresh starts and autumn.

Time, marked.