Cricket is one of the world’s most popular sports. It has a rabid following in countries like India, Australia and Pakistan – but not in the United States.
That could start to change.
Major League Cricket, a new professional cricket league based in the United States, is in the middle of its first season. The initial schedule features 19 matches, split between Grand Prairie and a venue in North Carolina.
Mike Piellucci, sports editor of D Magazine, spoke to Texas Standard about the league’s plans and prospects. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: I know cricket’s huge in places like India and Australia. What about here in the U.S.? I haven’t heard much on this score.
Mike Piellucci: Well, I think it is, in a lot of ways, hidden in plain sight.
It is enormous among Southeast Asian populations. It’s a thing where, up in Dallas, if you look at the suburbs it’s being played, the number of clubs is growing in the country. So it’s there in theory, it’s just a matter of, can this work if it’s organized in practice?
I’m curious about how Major League Cricket landed in Grand Prairie of all places.
Yeah, you can thank the former Independent Baseball League team, the Texas AirHogs for that.
They were playing right in Grand Prairie in the shadow of the racetrack out there. They had a stadium built. They closed operations in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. You have a stadium that’s sitting there and Major League Cricket’s problem, when they were coming to the United States more than anything else, was infrastructure: “Where do we actually play this?”
So they decided to buy this stadium and overhaul it and turn it into mostly a cricket stadium with a few baseball touches remaining from the old ballpark. And so, at least for the first year to two, probably the vast majority of these games for all six of these cities are going to be here outside of Dallas, and certainly for the first year.
Well, Mike, you make a terrific point about the popularity of cricket, right under our noses and of course the effect of migration on that in a big way, certainly here in Texas. But that gets right to an issue that soccer and other sports have faced here in the United States. How does the league plan to get U.S. audiences interested in watching cricket?
Yeah and in some ways the challenge is even greater because before Major League Soccer came here in 1993, it still had a presence in this country. There were kids playing soccer, there were soccer fields. Pick an American on any street corner and chances are they at least heard of soccer.
Cricket here is very much a bubble. If you know it, you love it. But a lot of people don’t know it.
But the advantage that cricket has is, if you’re thinking about any sport that we’re used to in America – you use the baseball analogy – Cory Seager, the star shortstop for the Rangers, is only playing for the Rangers. He’s not playing anywhere else.
Well, in cricket, with these franchise competitions, Major League Cricket’s only gonna run for a little over a month here. And then those same athletes that you’ll see here, a lot of them are just going to go play in a different country and then in another country. And so the best of the best might play for three or four different club teams in different countries, plus their national team.
And so what you’ll see in Grand Prairie, they’ll have some of the best talent in the world here. This isn’t going to be, ‘hey, we’re trying an Americanized cricket league, but all the best players are in 10 different countries.’ You’re going to see international stars of this thing.
And so I guess the idea, in terms of how they’re marketing it, you gotta get people in the door, but you’re gonna see the very best version of the product once you’re there. And I have to imagine that’s – for Americans, where we’re used to wanting to see the best of everything – that’s a pretty good lure.
But did I hear you say correctly, this is just gonna be for a month or so?
Yeah, so it starts on July 13. It’s done on, I believe, the 31st.
Now this is an abbreviated first season, it’s worth noting. But, you know, even the Indian Premier League, which is the biggest league in the world – that’s the NFL of cricket – that’s going about six weeks to two months. This isn’t something that’s a year-round thing and that’s how you get a lot of the best talent.
Cricketers are mainly employed by their country’s national team. All the stuff that they’re doing, like on the franchise level, that’s just kind of, “Oh, I have a break. I’ll make some money and I’ll do that.”
So that’s how the system sort of works in that if you’re playing for India, your job is to play for India. You might play for the Indian Premier League, you’ll go back and play for India. You might have a break in July – ‘I might come to the U.S. and see what that’s all about, play for a few weeks and go back home.’ So that’s how it’s able to happen.
And the Texas team or teams we’re talking about here?
Yes, there is the Texas Super Kings. So if that name sounds exotic, it is because they are one of four teams in this league that is affiliated and partly owned by an Indian Premier League team. And that’s kind of another thing that is working in this league’s favor. If it’s going to work, you’ve got the best of the best in cricket lending infrastructure and support of financial muscle to this thing.
So the New York team is “Mumbai Indians New York,” which sounds like a very awkward name, but it’s supposed to convey the idea that they’re related to the Mumbai Indians, which is the big team in India. And if you are a Southeast Asian person in the United States who loves cricket, you know who that is and that lends some credibility.
So the Texas Super Kings is, I believe, the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League.