Home MLB A lack of 20-20 vision

A lack of 20-20 vision

by Matt Smith

Sadly for Graeme Swann, the dreams of wasting money on pink Ferraris failed to come true in the early hours of this morning.  The England cricket team spent most of the week being humiliated, so their ten wicket loss to the Stanford Superstars in the much-hyped 20-20 game was a fitting way to round off the trip.  It wasn’t a surprise that, when push came to shove, England found a way to mess up in spectacular fashion, just as it wouldn’t be a shock to find that the dream of using the game to sell cricket to America didn’t achieve much either. 

The Stanford series was a product of various self-interests.  The infamous WAG-bouncer Sir Allen Stanford wanted to use some of his enormous wealth to gain a large amount of publicity for his business and, more importantly, himself.  The West Indies Cricket Board were desperate for something to help prop up their once-proud national game that has sadly become a shadow of its former self.  And as for the England Cricket Board, they jumped into bed with the first money-toting bloke to bat his eyelids at them, a misguided decision in keeping with their overall reaction to the events in India that have turned the cricketing world on its head.

Still, some other ideas were touted as motivating factors for the Stanford Series; ideas that would be for ‘the greater good of cricket’. One of these concerned the prospect of using the big 20-20 game as a great way to market cricket in America. 

Playing a game to win $20m sounded more like a tacky TV show than a professional cricket match involving England’s national team.  Tacky TV shows do tend to win good ratings, so it will be interesting to see how many people tuned in, particularly from countries that wouldn’t normally pay much attention to cricket. 

You always have to be careful when the organization involved in a product tells you what the ratings mean.  Like any statistic, they can be manipulated to support any argument you like. For example, Sony are making a big thing of the fact that the latest Bond film took a record amount in its opening day in the UK.  That may well be true, but it’s hardly a surprise considering we haven’t been able to watch a single TV ad break, or open a newspaper/magazine, for the past month or so without being told ten times that the film was coming out.  It would be more newsworthy if the film hadn’t broken the record.

Anyway, we’ll have to wait and see what the Stanford lot claim, but my guess is that there was no great surge of Americans looking up the LBW rules on Wikipedia.  One-off games rarely capture the imagination.  Completely one-sided, one-off games are more likely to discourage people from taking a second look. 

Like baseball in the U.K., cricket is never going to be more than a minority sport in America.  Where baseball holds the advantage is that it believes in the quality and attraction of the sport itself.  It’s not averse to making decisions that leave the purists shaking their heads (see the IBAF’s new extra innings rule), but generally speaking the integrity of the game is left intact. If you are going to fall in love with baseball, you will fall for the true spirit of the game and will develop a deep and lasting attachment to it as a result.

Cricket (more specifically the clowns in charge of the circus) seems to think it can only sell itself to new territories by trotting out a pale imitation of the true sport.  When the man signing the cheques for this great venture thinks that Test cricket is “boring”, there is little hope that the new fans will really fall in love with the game.  And that’s a real shame.

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Joe Gray November 2, 2008 - 8:10 pm

The Stanford series was not cricket.

As for box office records, I’m always amazed that they fail to mention that increasing ticket prices could have an effect. It would be like measuring a 2008 Major League pitcher’s wins total against the 59 that Charley Radbourn accumulated in 1884 (only in reverse, temporally speaking).

Chico November 3, 2008 - 8:38 pm

Matt: I had never heard of Sir Allen Stanford. I doubt many Americans have either. I’m trying to figure out what this whole thing is about. Was the Stanford Series a hybrid type of game and not real Cricket? I also see it was on ESPN2. I highly doubt very many people watched it on TV here. Was the consensus in Britain that the British National team not participate in it? Anyway, hello to you and Joe! 75 degrees here in Wisconsin. A lot of the guys are out playing wiffleball. I’m going to hit ground balls to my son at our field later this afternoon. I dislike this time of year as far as baseball is concerned. The thought of a long winter ahead is not very exciting for baseball people. Days like today just tease us here in the North. I have family in Arizona and the weather is just now getting nice (low 80’s) for some more fall ball. We’ll work indoors in a batting cage over the winter. Hope all is well! Chico

Matt Smith November 3, 2008 - 10:08 pm

Hi Chico

The Stanford Series was a week of cricket games played under 20-20 rules, which means that each team gets just twenty overs to score their runs. It’s a bit like playing a two-inning game of baseball: the magic of the ebb and flow of a game is completely sacrificed in the name of a very quick ‘bash and smash’ version of the game.

Twenty-20 is basically designed for TV as games last about 3 hours and it is taking off in a massive way in India. Currently the England international players are not allowed to play in the Indian tournaments, which is costing them large sums of money. To try and keep them on side, the English Cricket board agreed to be part of this Stanford series, which is a glorified exhibition match funded by one man. The final game was worth $20m to the winners, nothing to the losers (England lost!). It has basically been seen as a very tacky, sordid competition and many people here are angry that the England team were associated with it.

As an example from one newspaper (The Times):

“It has been a shattering week for the Pietersen [the England Cricket captain] leadership, as England attempted to play an uncomfortable tournament based on a vulgar premise, heavily criticised by anyone who could string a sentence together. The fact is, they were only there for the money and they didn’t get any. It leaves Pietersen with a crisis more serious than a single batting collapse. The absurd Stanford enterprise has effectively destabilised the England team and their leadership at a hideously sensitive time” etc!

Wiffleball always sounds like a lot of fun, although I don’t think I’d be able to get many people to join in where I live! The onset of winter is always tough to deal with (unless you’re in Arizona). Good to hear you’re still going to get some time to practice with your son though.

Joe Cooter November 4, 2008 - 2:07 am

As a baseball fan living here in Upstate NY, I have to admit that I’ve been curious about Cricket for Awhile now. I must say that even I was surprised that the Match got mentioned on SportCenter yesterday, as part of there top ten plays of the day. I see the similarities in the two games and recognize the shared history that the two sports have.

I have to confess that I have never really seen an entire Cricket Match. Having said that, I have seen enough highlights of the game on Both Fox Soccer Channel (they carry sky sports news daily) and BBC world News on BBC America, to begin to understand some of the nuisance of the game. Following the game, has made me appreciate the game of baseball even more. In fact, it has cause me to renew my interest in baseball history, which led me too discover a few interesting tidbits which I shall now pass on to the readers of this page.

For starters, the Elysain Fields in Hoboken was a place of historical importance to both sports. Not only was the first modern game of baseball played there, but the first cricekt international was played there as well between the US and Canada. In fact, Cricket was just as popular in the United States as Baseball before the Cival War.

In addition, Major League Baseball owes a tremendous amount of debt to the Now defunct St. Georges Cricket Club in Manhatten. In 1846 they hired a Professional Cricketer from Sheffield, England named Sam Wright. Sam Son’s, who started out playing cricket, were George and Harry Wright who formed the first proffessional baseball team; the Cincinati Red Stockings. Infact both George and Harry represented the US at the International level after their playing careers in baseball ended. In addition, Albert Spaulding (founder of the Chicargo Cubs and the sporting goods company of the same name) also Started out as a cricket Bowler.

I dont agree that either baseball or cricket will be niche sports in the others’ home country. Infact, I believe that if the two sports stopped looking down at the other, they could cooperate and take both games to new hights globally. Cricket is actually making strides here in America. They now play it as a Varsity sport in the New York City Public Athletic League alongside Baseball. As more imigrants from the former British Empire have come to this country, they have brought their love of Cricket here with them. IT’s also regularly played in Central Park as well.

Matt Smith November 4, 2008 - 7:11 am

Thanks for those comments Joe. I guess I’m naturally pessimistic! Cricket and baseball certainly could make strides if they cooperated more and we saw the potential recently when former England cricketer Marcus Trescothick put together a team of cricketers to take on the Great Britain in a baseball game, which was well received by all accounts.

There’s definitely potential to do something.

Chico November 4, 2008 - 4:45 pm

I cannot speak for the baseball situation in Great Britain, but in my opinion, Cricket will never become a popular sport in the U.S. There are so many sport options for kids to participate in as it is, that the odds of it become very popular are slim to none. The development of games at the youth level are obviously the only way that a sport becomes popular. There may be small areas that it will be played (Joe’s account of small areas in N.Y.), but nationally, never IMO. Baseball is too ingrained in the fabric of America that a similar game simply will not take hold. Small pockets, possibly, but nationally, no. I hope that baseball continues to grow in GB! Herts Baseball Club gives great hope, I think, because of the youth participation.

Matt Smith November 4, 2008 - 9:50 pm

Youth participation is certainly important Chico and the difficulty with this is that you don’t just need a group of enthusiastic kids. You need parents that are willing to help out with coaching, the organizing of games and much more. You also need somewhere that they can practice and play. With so many established sports jealously guarding their territory, it can be very difficult to find somewhere suitable. More cooperation as described by Joe would be a great help, but sadly the willingness to do this is often just not there.

Joe Cooter November 4, 2008 - 10:49 pm

I just found out that the NYPD is also operating a cricket league. It’s not just the Big Apple where cricket is being played.

There are many clubs in the United State of America. According to the Cricinfo, a website devoted to Cricket which is owned by ESPN, there are currently cricket leagues operating in Arizona, California, New York, Massachuetes,Colorado, Conneticut, Deleware,Florida (where they’ve just built a stadium designed specifically for Cricket),Georgia, Hawaii, Illonios, Michigan, Iowa and Nebraska, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina?Virgina, Tennessee, Oaklahoma/ Kansas, Texas, The District of Columbia, and Washington/Oregon/Idaho. That by my count is 29 nine states and the District of Columbia. That is far from a few teams playing in New York. In addition there is the Haverford College Cricket Club in Pennsylvania which houses the largest collection of writing on Cricket outside of Great Britain. The complete list of leagues can be found here:

By the way I found this article on the development of baseball on the same website: http://www.cricinfo.com/db/NATIONAL/ICC_MEMBERS/USA/BASEBALL.html It’s basically the same article that has appeared on the Seatle Cricket Club’s website.

Joe Cooter November 4, 2008 - 10:57 pm

In addition there is the Compton Cricket Club located in South Centeral Los Angeles. The member of the club are predominantly African American. On its website they say there are the only team made up entirely of American born players. Some of the players on the Team are ex gang members. There website is http://www.comptoncricketclub.org/

Tim November 5, 2008 - 9:56 am

Harry Wright and Albert Spalding, whom Joe C mentioned, are also credited with first introducing baseball in the UK once it had developed – and become popular – in the US (there are various accounts of early versions of “base ball” appearing in the UK before then). They brought over Major League teams for exhibition games in the late 1800’s which inspired Britain’s first attempt at a professional baseball league in 1890.

Chico November 5, 2008 - 4:21 pm

I am not critical of Cricket or the few who play it in the U.S. Hey, the more the better. All I am saying is that a few leagues in 29 states and D.C. is not even a blip on the U.S. radar as far as organized sports are concerned. I agree with Matt. A lot is needed to get a sport organized and flourishing. There are a lot of Frizbee Golf courses near college campuses along with Frizbee Football and I’ll bet there are more kids playing that than Cricket. Badminton, squash and handball are all very minority sports, yet they are played everywhere. What we sometimes forget is that the U.S. is so large and so diverse in interests that one could find a sport they enjoy somewhere in probably any region or possibly state. None of the above mentioned including Cricket are ever going to be mainstream sports. Just niche sports, thats all. One last point: Even Hockey as popular as it is, is truly just a regional sport with most Americans never lacing up a pair of skates or ever holding a puck. I could list 20 more niche sports. I respectfully disagree with the assertion that Cricket could ever be a big sport in the U.S.


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