Watching Masters Golf. Such a slow pace, it takes days to finish, and it’s only watched by ageing men: it will never take off in America.
— Alternative Cricket (@AltCricket) April 14, 2013
When I talk about cricket with American sports fans, I often use golf as an example. “It’s everything you like about golf and tennis and baseball all rolled into one,” I’ll say. And I stand by that.
And the Tweet from the Alternative Cricket folks brings up a valid question: if Americans can like golf, is liking Test cricket really a bridge too far?
The following is my long-winded answer:
On Monday, when I initially made the inquiry, there were nearly 400,000 Tweets with the hashtag “masters” over the previous seven days (source: Topsy.com). And while of course those were not all from American Tweeters, I am willing to bet that at least a quarter of them were. Which means that Americans banged out 100,000 Tweets in a week about a four day long, international sport where you have to be quiet a lot and nothing much can happen the first couple of days.
Furthermore, and this time specifically regarding Americans, the final round on Sunday drew a 10.2 overnight TV rating. Translated: over 10% of the televisions in the US’s 56 biggest media markets were tuned in to watch a South African beat an Argentinian at a game invented in Scotland.
And that’s the thing: it’s not like golf is American, like baseball or basketball. The game was invented in the UK, just like football and cricket. And it’s not like American athletes dominate the game: recent winners of the Masters have been South African, Argentinian, Australian…
And so back to the initial question: if golf can work here, then why not Test cricket? If not every match, then at least one or two matches a year or one big series every four years?
Here’s why not:
1. Tiger Woods
#1: Cricket needs an international superstar. They need a Tiger Woods, a Lance Armstrong, a Roger Federer, a David Beckham. Someone who breaks down barriers and turns a niche sport into a global brand. And it would really help if that person happened to be American.
But cricket has been around for centuries and has yet to produce its global hero; and chances are it never will. Then again, however, Tiger and Lance really came out of left field. So who’s to say there isn’t a brilliant all rounder in Montana with an English grandmother just waiting to set the world on fire? Certainly not me.
#2: The Masters has been around for 80 years. Even those that don’t like to watch golf like to watch the Masters. In the same way that people who despise car racing like to watch the Daytona 500, or people who despise gridiron football like to watch the Rose Bowl. In the same way that Americans like to watch figure skating and the long jump and swimming every four years.
Test cricket will never have that in America.
#3: Lots of Americans like to watch golf because lots of Americans like to play golf. A new golf course opens in America every single day of the year. And while the game for the most part belongs to white upper middle class males, that is changing more and more every day, thanks in large part to Tiger Woods.
For cricket to achieve such status in America, it is going to need at least another three generations of grassroots development.
That’s 90 years.
The above is not to say that Test cricket will never work in America, but it is saying that we are not ready quite yet, and that it might be a while. It is saying that it might take 100 years, and/or a bolt of lightning, and it is saying that golf’s current popularity is not a harbinger of America’s readiness to accept Test cricket.
All of that said: while golf’s popularity is not necessarily a sign that America is ready for Test cricket, it is definitely saying that the obstacles for cricket that most people cite (its length, its European pedigree, its requirement for longer attention spans and an appreciation of nuance and subtly) are not really obstacles at all; that there are actually bigger obstacles to overcome.
Full disclosure: I do not watch golf.
Or car racing. Or the Rose Bowl. At all. Ever. No matter what.
I love the Olympics though.