The inaugural season of the Major League Cricket concluded at the Grand Prairie Stadium in suburban Dallas, with MI New York being crowned as the first champion. Stand-in captain Nicholas Pooran played a swashbuckling knock, scoring an unbeaten 137 runs off just 55 balls, which helped the Big Apple franchise secure victory against the formidable Seattle Orcas – a team that had appeared to be the strongest until the final match. At the halfway stage, Seattle’s 183 for 9 looked like a challenging total, but MI New York achieved the target with four overs left, thanks to Pooran’s superlative innings.
The morning after the end of Season 1, one thing is clear: MLC is here to stay.
While some may view it as a bold prediction for a fledgling league that has just completed its first season and hosted fewer than 15 matches, the quality of entertainment and the passionate response from fans indicate that cricket has found a solid foothold in the United States.
Here are a few things that serve as signposts that MLC will be embraced by the American audience and become a part of the US sporting landscape.
Quality of cricket:
The quality of cricket in the first year of MLC has been above average. Many of the bigwigs that the teams signed did not fail to deliver. West Indies T20 international Nicholas Pooran, who singlehandedly won the final for MI New York, was the top scorer with 388 runs, at an impressive average of 64.66. Following him in the list of top scorers were two South African Orcas players, wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock who scored 264, and Heinrich Klaasen with 235 runs.
While Pooran’s innings defined the final, Klaasen scored a similarly breathtaking knock when MI New York and Orcas faced each other in the final league game in Morrisville. He scored a 44-ball 110 containing 9 fours and 7 sixes to help Orcas defeat MI New York.
Among bowlers, New Zealander Trent Boult was the top wicket-taker with 22 scalps. Notable performances included Washington Freedom’s Mumbai-born left-arm fast-medium pacer Saurabh Netravalkar’s six-wicket haul for just 9 runs against San Francisco during the league stage.
Many US stars also performed well, including Seattle’s Australia-born Cameron Gannon, who finished second among bowlers with 11 wickets, and New York’s Nosthusha Kenjige, who was born in Auburn, Alabama.
The excitement generated by these performances underlines the potential for cricket to capture the American imagination.
Fans, especially those from various South Asian diasporas, embraced MLC with both hands and showed up at the stadiums to root for their teams, braving the unusually hot July summer. In Morrisville, NC, most matches were sold out.
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The fan engagement in the first season shows that the foundation for cricket’s success in America is solid, given the presence of more than 6 million cricket enthusiasts from the South Asian American diaspora. Additionally, significant populations from cricket-loving regions like the Caribbean, Britain, and Australia add to the diverse and expansive fanbase that can sustain cricket in the US. This multicultural blend creates a unique cricketing community, ready to embrace the game with passion.
MLC’s inaugural season received substantial coverage from major US news outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as prominent sports publications like ESPN. The interest shown by these media outlets, who previously viewed cricket as nothing more than a curiosity, indicates the sport’s growth trajectory.
What does the future hold for MLC?
While reaching the status of the four major sporting leagues — NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL — may be an unattainable goal for MLC in the foreseeable future, there is potential for it to reach popularity akin to Major League Soccer. Interestingly, MLC’s debut season coincided with the Major League Soccer debut of Lionel Messi, a sports superstar of global renown.
As Washington Freedom owner Sanjay Govil told the American Bazaar, there is enough space for cricket in the United States. America is known for its patronage of various sports, including golf, tennis, and lacrosse, providing ample opportunities for cricket to flourish outside the established leagues.
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The success of the inaugural season is likely to attract more elite and star cricketers from around the world, elevating the level of competition and increasing the game’s popularity. The presence of renowned players will undoubtedly draw more attention and create a ripple effect on the sport’s growth.
Another boost will be the construction of new stadiums. Already, teams like Freedom and Orcas are moving ahead with plans for their own stadiums, indicating their willingness to invest in the sport’s infrastructure. World-class stadium experiences will further enhance the appeal of MLC matches and encourage greater fan participation.
Over time, MLC will add more teams. It is likely that those teams from the Indian Premier League that sat out this year will join during the expansion drive, as will men and women from the South Asian diaspora with deep pockets that missed out during the first round.
Another positive to emerge in the first season was the enthusiasm shown by some of the owners to be at the park and root for their teams.
For the final, MI owner Nita Ambani, the wife of billionaire Mukesh Ambani and the team’s superfan, flew all the way from Mumbai, indicating that the Ambanis see the US market as more than just an outpost of cricket.
Freedom’s Govil was present for every match his team played. Seattle’s Sanjay Parthasarathy and Texas Super King’s Anurag Jain were also at the stadium rooting for their teams on many game days.
The success of MLC’s inaugural season demonstrated that cricket could find a secure home in America. The quality of cricket, the media attention, and the passionate fan response are clear indicators that the path ahead for MLC is promising. While challenges lie ahead, the sport’s vibrant and diverse fanbase, coupled with growing infrastructure and investments, is bound to secure cricket’s place as a beloved sport in the United States. The future of cricket in America is bright, and Major League Cricket is set to play a significant role in its journey.