T20 WC: Can US team’s classic underdog story boost the game in the country?

The Super Eight line-up is now complete where the two biggest names, Kiwis and Pakistan, will miss out on the next stage

US team during their inspiring run in T20 World Cup (photo: ICC)
US team during their inspiring run in T20 World Cup (photo: ICC)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The Super Eight line-up of the T20 World Cup is now complete after two weeks of action – comprising seven usual suspects and one major surprise. No prizes for guessing that one is talking about co hosts US while two of the biggest names to miss out are the ever consistent Kiwis and Pakistan, 2022 runners-up. 

The breakthrough of the US has been certainly the biggest underdog story of the US chapter of the World Cup, which had been a bit of a mixed bag with some unexpected results but discontent simmering over the wickets and other infrastructure like drainage system and practice facilities.

However, if someone had told you at the beginning of June that names like Saurav Netravalkar, Monank Patel or Aaron Jones would emerge as standout performers in a group which had powerhouses like India, Pakistan or member nation Ireland – one would have taken it with a handful of salt.  However, the calmness and discipline which the predominantly expat team summoned in their approach against the big names – aided by some helpful conditions for the bowlers – yielded great dividends for the US team. Their Super Over win against Pakistan must have worked wonders for the team’s morale, while it was refreshing to see the rookies make India sweat in reaching a paltry target. 

Netravalkar, the left-arm seamer who had once been a part of the Under-19 India team under KL Rahul’s captaincy in 2010 before relocating to the US, was nothing short of world-class in the manner he prised out the wickets of master batters Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma within powerplay.

Explaining his craft later, the software engineer of Oracle said: ‘’Our total was low and the pitch was offering swing with the new ball. It was important to keep it simple and bowl at the top of the off stump. That was the plan, and I am happy that I was able to pick up their wickets and do well for the team.’’

The Super Eight will offer them a different kind of challenge where they will face in-form South Africa, two-time champions and fellow hosts West Indies and defending champions England. The other group comprises India, Australia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Whatever happens from here onwards, the USA have already won it - far exceeding any expectations for the team at the tournament.  

The overriding question now is: can the US performance make a difference to usher in a popularity wave for cricket in that country? It’s still early days to say but the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) ambitious move to reach out to the biggest untapped market for the event has found an unexpected ally in the US team’s performance. The introduction of the six-team Major League Cricket (MLC) from last year with backers like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen and Access Healthcare chairman Anurag Jain and cricket being a medal sport from the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics are also expected to further to its cause.     

“Over the years, America started growing to like soccer and things like that. So, I think the more USA, the national team does good, the more it will be out there as well and the more people can see and like the game as well,’’ said Steven Taylor, a US batter. 

The insiders of US sport feel that despite a promising start, it will take time for cricket to reach anywhere close to the national pastime like baseball, basketball, football or hockey. While baseball was cemented as the US national pastime by the early 20th century in the 1960s, ‘’increased immigration from the West Indies reinvigorated cricket, in the New York region especially and in the decades that followed, immigration from South Asia also dramatically increased,’’ The Atlantic reported.

There are more than five million Americans of South Asian descent, the majority being Indian American, The Atlantic added, though many of them ‘’have almost nowhere local to play or watch the game.’’ This has also created a new market for American cricket players – making it imperative for more locals to take to the sport. 

 ‘’There’s this kind of growing embracing of what has been a global sport except for the United States’ participation,’’ felt Jay Coakley, a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs who specialises in global migration and sports, in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor. ‘’ However, I don’t see cricket just entering the US like a waterfall here. I see it more like a stream,’’ he said.

Even that will be music to the cricket fraternity!

Super 8 fixtures

Group 1: 20 June: Afghanistan v India, Bridgetown, Barbados; Australia v Bangladesh, North Sound, Antigua

22 June: India v Bangladesh, North Sound, Antigua; Afghanistan v Australia, Arnos Vale, St Vincent.

24 June: Australia v India, Gros Islet, St Lucia; Afghanistan v Bangladesh, Arnos Vale, St Vincent.

Group 2: 19 June: USA v South Africa, North Sound, Antigua; England v West Indies, Gros Islet, St Lucia

21 June: England v South Africa, Gros Islet, St Lucia; USA v West Indies, Bridgetown, Barbados.

23 June: USA v England, Bridgetown, Barbados; West Indies v South Africa, North Sound, Antigua.

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