Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The U.S. cricket team just advanced to the Super 8. How an unlikely lineup of 9-to-5ers is making history

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Cricket, a sport often described as a cross between baseball and chess, is having a renaissance after two back-to-back wins by the U.S. men’s team at the T20 Cricket World Cup in Dallas.

In their World Cup debut as co-host, the United States defeated Canada and Pakistan, the latter of which is one of the world’s best teams, in their first two matches played on June 1 and June 6. The U.S. team lost its June 12 match against India, a country where the number of World Cup finals viewers last year was comparable to the entire U.S. population, with a staggering 300 million watchers. The 2024 Super Bowl, by comparison, saw 123 million viewers.

The team was slated to play its final Group A match against Ireland Friday, but it got some help from the weather. The match was canceled, which allowed the U.S. to advance to the next stage, called Super 8, where the top eight teams compete after the initial group stage, reports the Associated Press.

All eyes are on the players, who hope their victories will be a turning point for the sport in the U.S.

“Cricket is the second-most-watched sport after soccer in the world,” the team’s captain Monank Patel tells Yahoo News. “It was only a matter of time before the sport caught up in America.”

The day after his team defeated Pakistan, player Ali Khan says he was surprised to see a wave of headlines celebrating the win.

“It put USA cricket on the map,” he tells Yahoo News of their recent victory. “Usually when I get notifications, it’s always about the NFL or the NBA. But the next day, I got on my phone and saw all these notifications about how the USA has taken down a ‘cricket powerhouse.’”

Patel expects interest in his team — Khan, vice captain Aaron Jones, Steven Taylor, Corey Anderson, Saurabh Netravalkar, Jessy Singh, Harmeet Singh, Nosthush Kenjige, Shadley van Schalkwyk, Nitish Kumar, Andries Gous, Shayan Jahangir, Nisarg Patel and Milind Kumar — to grow even more after the World Cup.

“It has just begun in America, and it won’t be long till cricket becomes a mainstream sport watched by millions in our great nation, and not just limited to the South Asian population.”

Major League Cricket, with a nearly $1 billion investment from Indian American leaders like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, sold out every stadium game in its debut season last spring. It picks up again July 15. The sport will also be played at the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles for the first time since 1900.

Most players on the U.S. men’s team have 9-to-5 jobs when they’re not on the field, according to NBC News, with many hailing from South Asia or the West Indies — where cricket is the top sport.

Khan, who’s worked part time as an Uber driver, never thought having a career as a cricket player was possible in the U.S., where the sport isn’t as popular as others like football, basketball or baseball.

“We have created history already,” he says. “We are good cricketers. We have the skills, we have the talent, we have the ability. It’s just that we were waiting for the right opportunity.”

Some choose to juggle multiple opportunities in the process. Netravalkar, one of the team’s top players, for example, works full time as a software engineer and sometimes takes Zoom meetings between practices.

Saurabh NetravalkarSaurabh Netravalkar

U.S. men’s cricket player Saurabh Netravalkar has a full-time job as a software engineer. (Matt Roberts-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

“It can be hard to manage,” he told the Athletic about juggling cricket with his day job. “But, with the support of my teammates and the coaching staff here, it has worked.”

Similarly, up until March 2023, Harmeet Singh was working odd jobs at gas stations and malls, with a side hustle teaching kids how to play cricket, his father told Indian Express.

Milind Kumar was reportedly working at India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation before moving to the U.S. in 2021 to pursue professional cricket, having played on various minor teams in India. Kenjige, meanwhile, has a degree in biotechnology and explored a career in medical equipment inspection before moving to cricket full time in 2018.

The diverse background of both the players and their fans is what makes the U.S. team particularly meaningful, says Patel.

“I hope more Americans will embrace the sense of camaraderie that cricket offers, along with its unique mix of culture, entertainment and athleticism,” the team captain says. “The team spirit shown, despite individuals being from different backgrounds, is something quite unique. That’s the power of sport for you.”

DALLAS, TEXAS - JUNE 01: Ali Khan of USA prepares to bowl during the ICC Men's T20 Cricket World Cup West Indies & USA 2024 match between USA  and Canada at  Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium on June 01, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)DALLAS, TEXAS - JUNE 01: Ali Khan of USA prepares to bowl during the ICC Men's T20 Cricket World Cup West Indies & USA 2024 match between USA  and Canada at  Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium on June 01, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

U.S. men’s cricket team player Ali Khan. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Looking ahead, Patel sees a future where cricket is “part of school curriculums nationwide,” similar to track and field, football and basketball.

The International Cricket Council, the sport’s global governing body, is making a concerted effort to make that happen by hosting World Cup matches in Texas, New York and Florida (countries in the West Indies, which is co-hosting the World Cup with the U.S., are also hosting matches) as a way to raise interest in the sport in the U.S.

Following Pakistan’s highly publicized match against India, which packed a Long Island, N.Y., stadium with roughly 34,000 fans, Khan believes the country has a unique opportunity to build a young fan base.

“Once American kids pick up the sport, then we might have proper infrastructure for the sport in high schools,” he says.

“There’s a lot of youth in this country who play cricket, and now they have heroes to look up to,” adds Khan. “We could be known as, like, the Founding Fathers of cricket.”





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