Cricket in uncharted territory as T20 World Cup starts in Texas – Sport

DALLAS: Cricket ventures into uncharted territory on Saturday as the first ever major tournament to be staged in the United States gets under way in Texas with the opening game of the T20 World Cup.

A month-long festival of the fastest and most explosive form of the sport — which is being shared between venues in Texas, Florida, New York and the Caribbean — begins with the US taking on Canada at the Grand Prairie Stadium on the outskirts of Dallas on Saturday.

It marks the opening skirmish of the first ever major International Cricket Council (ICC) event to be held in part in the United States.

While the bulk of the tournament will be played out in the Caribbean, 16 group stage games in the 20-team tournament will be played on American soil, including the highlight of the group stage — a clash between India and Pakistan.

That match is due to be played at a 34,000-capacity temporary venue in Long Island, New York on June 9.

“It looks beautiful,” India captain Rohit Sharma told the ICC website ahead of a warm-up game against Bangladesh at the ground.

“It’s quite an open ground. When we come here and play our first game, I just can’t wait to feel the atmosphere in the stadium.”

The rest of the tournament will be held in the West Indies, including the Super Eight stage, the semi-finals and the final, which will be played at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados.

While cricket is widely played at a recreational level in the United States, with strong presences in all three of the states that have been chosen for games, organisers are realistic about the chances of “converting” mainstream American sports fans.

Instead, they expect that the large immigrant communities from cricket-loving backgrounds, including thousands of India fans in particular, will pack the stadiums.

“I think, number one, we want to celebrate those that are already fanatical lovers of cricket. They deserve to see the best players in the world come into their backyard and have that chance,” T20 World Cup USA, Inc. chief executive Brett Jones told AFP.

“Number two, I think it’s about spiking curiosity in the game,” he said.

The ICC also sees the tournament as a launch pad towards the sport’s return to the Olympics for Los Angeles 2028, when the T20 format will be used.

Major League Cricket, a T20 tournament, was launched last year and also stands to benefit from any growth in interest in the big-hitting, spectacular shortest form.

But it is not only the American market that the ICC is focused upon — the expansion of the tournament has opened up opportunities for newer cricket nations to compete on the big stage.

In recent years, the sport has been able to expand outside of its traditional strongholds with Ireland and Afghanistan earning places in the 12-strong elite with full Test status.

But the ICC see the T20 format as the perfect vehicle for growing the game and this year’s edition will feature three T20 World Cup debutants in the USA, Canada and Uganda.

Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Oman are among the other nations who are relatively new to the big stage and who will be looking to make their mark and grab some attention with an upset win.

With the teams drawn in four groups of five teams, with just the top two advancing, none of the smaller nations are expected to progress beyond the group stage and there is a danger the pool stage could mainly be a ‘weeding out’ process.

AUSTRALIA AIM TREBLE

India, winners of the first edition in 2007, are the favourites, with their line-up packed with players from the annual Indian Premier League.

Australia, winners of the ODI World Cup last year along with the World Test Championship, will be aiming to become the first team to possess all three of cricket’s global titles at the same time.

Australia won a hat-trick of one-day World Cups between 1999-2007 and, going by their heady success in recent global events, they are close to recreating that ‘golden era’.

Under Pat Cummins, they won the World Test Championship title and the one-day World Cup last year – beating a formidable India in both the finals.

The onus is now on Mitchell Marsh to lead Australia to another successful campaign, which would make them the reigning world champions in all three formats of the game.

It is not going to be a cakewalk of course.

India have not won a global trophy in more than a decade despite dominating the business side of the game and coming agonisingly close on two occasions last year itself.

That they run the world’s richest T20 league and yet have not won a 20-overs World Cup since the inaugural edition in 2007 does not sit well with the fans.

It could well be the last limited-overs World Cup for captain Sharma and stalwart Virat Kohli and nothing would please their fans more than watching them do the victory lap on June 29 in Bridgetown.

England’s 50-overs title defence fizzled out in India last year and they will do everything they can to prevent another meltdown, which could have serious ramifications on the future of captain Jos Buttler and coach Matthew Mott.

They have gambled on Jofra Archer’s fitness despite the speedster’s several aborted comeback attempts from back and elbow injuries, while test captain Ben Stokes has opted out.

Also in the reckoning will be Pakistan, who have brought back Babar Azam as captain of the side and appointed Gary Kirsten as the coach hoping their collaboration will yield a second T20 World Cup title for them.

South Africa will arrive with a bunch of power-hitters but their bowling resources look rather thin, while New Zealand will be determined to shed their ‘nearly-man’ tag under Kane Williamson’s inspiring leadership.

Co-hosts West Indies will also be in the reckoning having handed the coaching reins to Daren Sammy, who led them to both of their T20 World Cup titles.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2024

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