Cricket for Americans: So what’s happening now?

The international side of American sports is mostly non-existent. There’s no such thing in gridiron football. In baseball there’s the World Baseball Classic but that is a bit of a farce and rarely attracts the word’s best players. For basketball and hockey the Olympics every four years can be a really big deal if the NBA and the NHL decide to release their players, but that’s not always the case. Soccer, of course, has a huge international infrastructure, but outside of the Women’s team which is probably the most popular international sports team in America, it’s now largely ignored. The men’s team hasn’t played in a World Cup since 2014. And they might not again until they host in 2026. And last night they lost to Canada. Canada.

And so the domestic competitions, and their championships, are the sports’ main draw in America. In football, it’s the Super Bowl, in baseball, the World Series. Etc, etc, etc. And every year it’s more or less the same format, with a few minor changes here and there. An extra round, or a best of five series made a best of seven.

Not so in cricket. For a couple reasons. One: the international game rules the roost. it’s the money-maker. Two: 70% of global cricket revenue originates in one country, India. The former means holding as many international tournaments as possible, in order to generate as much money as possible for the national cricket councils (which should, rightfully, be used to grow the game domestically, but rarely is that done). And the latter means that India, who makes millions (billions?) on its unilateral tours (like, spending six weeks in South Africa as they are now) **edit: it’s the other way around** would really prefer fewer big international tournaments, as it means fewer tours, and less money.

Phew, right?

This creates a difficult balancing act: keep India happy, and keep all the other countries happy. Which is what gives us what we have now: an ever changing, ever fluid, series of international tournaments. World Cups, World Championships, Champions Trophies and on and on. Up until 2007, there was an international tournament every year. But the international cycle that stated in 2015 — cricket’s international calendar runs on eight year cycles — and runs through 2022 has two years where there is not. India is fine with this. Other countries are not. And so we hit an impasse. And the outcome will probably be a watered down six week tournament in Dubai where the sole purpose will be to print money.

This, more than I think just about anything, is cricket’s biggest issue: it’s utter inability to maintain a consistent international playoff structure. I say international but it’s a problem at the domestic level too. Everything is constantly changing, the goalposts are always being moved, and fans are left bewildered, even the most seasoned ones, who get the double whammy of bewilderment and disillusionment. And that’s not even taking into account the new fans, who are left wondering just what is going to come next in the game that they just decided to check out.

In gridiron football, there’s the Super Bowl. Full stop. And it works. Cricket has gone too far down the river to re-create an event like that — and considering cricket is a global sport it’s really not even possible — but the system they have now is untenable. (Though that’s true with most things in cricket, but that’s a blog for a different day.)

It’s the push pull of money versus tradition, India versus the rest of the world, that might in the end ruin in the game. Until then, all we can do is keep an eye on the international calendar, and do our best to keep track as to what’s coming next. Personally, my suggestion for new cricket fans, especially those in America, would be to avoid everything but the 50 Over and T20 World Cups, and do all you can to follow a domestic first class league. Those change, too, of course, thanks to the above push-pulls, but they are closer to what cricket was 100 years ago then anything else. And therefore might — just might — be the cricket we all come to rely on for the next 100 years.

Optimistic? Sure. But occasionally my glass is half full when it comes to the future of this great game. Follow America’s lead, bring the games back home, away from the international spotlight, and allow domestic leagues to thrive.

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