US: The new, bigger playing field for franchise cricket
At least three leagues, to be played in July-August, are expected to serve as an appetiser for the 2024 World Cup matches in the United States
The Americas, long identified as a frontier that cricket needed to tap into if it’s serious about taking the sport beyond its boundaries, finally seems to be warming up to it. The Major League Cricket (MLC), the first T20 franchise league in the country which boasts of several journeyman stars, got underway in Dallas on Thursday, July 13, while in August, a set of marquee Indian names headlined by Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh will be seen in action in Raleigh, North Carolina for the US Masters T10 League.
Playing catch-up will be neighbours Canada, who are going to revive their Global T20 Canada from July 20 after a gap of three years. There will be a feel of the ‘real thing’ in between when India and the West Indies, now in the middle of a Test series, will be playing two back-to-back T20 Internationals at Lauderhill in the US on August 12-13.
The surfeit of franchise cricket that is on offer is expected to serve as an appetiser for the T20 World Cup in 2024, which will feature some Cup matches for the first time in the US when they co-host the event with the West Indies. It’s after a gap of more than 15 years that the Caribbean islands will be hosting a major ICC event after the 2007 World Cup.
“I see myself, in 10 or 15 years, coming into American sports and you can see (what) the American feel watching the game of cricket, which is unique to anywhere else in the world,” remarked Faf du Plessis, captaining the Texas Super Kings, ahead of their game against Los Angeles Knight Riders at Grand Prairie Stadium which kicked off the MLC.
The six captains in attendance for the Media Day are personalities who have been there, done that in the world of franchise cricket and IPL. While the credentials of Du Plessis, currently captaining the Royal Challengers Bangalore and his records with Chennai Super Kings speak for itself, the others are Kieron Pollard (MI New York), Sunil Narine (Los Angeles Knight Riders), Aaron Finch (San Francisco Unicorns), Wayne Parnell (Seattle Orcas) and Moises Henriques (Washington Freedom).
Pollard, currently a batting coach for five-time champions Mumbai Indians but leading their US franchise in action here, said: “From an MI perspective, we look at new talent and are able to scout those international players when we look at it and go around the world in each tournament - the most important people are the domestic talent.”
There is a surfeit of big names taking part in MLC including Afghanistan’s T20 captain Rashid Khan, Pakistan’s Shadab Khan and Haris Rauf, South African David Miller (apart from Du Plessis), West Indians Andre Russell, Narine and Pollard, Australians Marcus Stoinis and Finch, England’s Jason Roy and New Zealand’s Trent Boult.
The mushrooming of franchise leagues has invited it’s share of critics, but the shorter the format – the greater seems to be it’s appeal for the diaspora living in that part of the world. This is what prompted the birth of the US Masters League in T10 format, which had grown in stature from it’s humble origins in the UAE in 2017. The trio of India’s 2011 World Cup winning squad – Gambhir, Yuvraj and Yusuf Pathan will turn out for New Jersey Legends there while there will be other big Indian names who have recently retired from international cricket.
Here are a few samplers: Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan and Mohammed Kaif will play for California Knights; Harbhajan Singh, Parthiv Patel for Morrisville Unity; Robin Uthappa for Atlanta Fire; Munaf Patel for New York Warriors. The US Masters event will be held from August 18-27.