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Cricket, a big business in India, brings star power to the U.S. with the country’s first world cup

USA Cricket Vice-Captain Aaron Jones poses next to a giant cricket ball, installed at a marketplace to mark 100 days to go for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, in Miami, Florida, on Feb. 22, 2024.
Chandan Khanna | Afp | Getty Images

A major cricket world cup is coming to U.S. soil for the first time in June as the sport sets out to chart its future in the U.S.

Cricket, a game similar to baseball, originated in England and has long been popular there. But the sport has boomed in India, the world’s most populous country, as well as some other former British colonies.

In the U.S., it is mostly immigrants and their children who enjoy cricket. But in 2023, the sport got a boost as Major League Cricket debuted in the U.S. with six teams: the Los Angeles Knight Riders, MI New York, San Francisco Unicorns, Seattle Orcas, Texas Super Kings and Washington Freedom.

And now, the U.S. men’s national cricket team will represent the home country in this year’s International Cricket Council Men’s T20 World Cup. The teams play in the Twenty20, or T20, format, the shortest and most popular form of the sport. While traditional cricket matches can last as long as five days, a T20 match typically lasts around three hours.

This year’s world cup is co-hosted by the U.S. and the West Indies and will take place in three U.S. stadiums — in Texas, Florida and New York — as well as several locations in the West Indies.

“This is a historic opportunity for the U.S.,” said former ESPN cricket writer Peter Della Penna.

Success in India

While it hasn’t broken through in the U.S., cricket has seen success in such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies. But it’s arguably made the biggest mark in India, where it’s the most popular sport in a country of more than 1.4 billion people, according to research firm Statista.

Cricket is already a big business in the Asian subcontinent. In 2022, it accounted for 85% of India’s national spending on sports, according to ISPO, which hosts trade shows for the sports business.

And viewership continues to break records. Disney said its Disney Star Network broadcast of the professional Indian Premier League, or IPL, tournament in 2023 saw a record 505 million viewers in India, making it the first one to draw more than half a billion viewers.

The average value of an IPL team has exceeded $1 billion, according to Forbes, and investors are taking notice. In June 2021, private equity firm RedBird took a 15% stake in IPL team Rajasthan Royals for $37.5 million.

A year later, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the country’s governing body for the sport, sold television and digital broadcasting rights for a record $6.2 billion. That gave the IPL the second-highest per-match value for a sporting league in the world, behind the NFL, according to Jay Shah, honorary secretary of the BCCI.

The early June world cup matchups will bring some of that star power to the U.S., with a high-profile India-Pakistan competition and culminating in a U.S.-India match.

“[The U.S.-India] match has already been sold out with 34,000 seats at the venue in New York,” Della Penna said. “That just gives you a sense of the magnitude of the opportunity that [the U.S. is] going to have during the world cup — with a television audience that’s unprecedented for any match that the U.S. has ever been involved with before — when you consider the Indian market and other markets like England or Australia.”

The ICC’s decision to host part of the world cup in the U.S. — and especially the highly anticipated India-Pakistan match — was a strategic move to take advantage of the potential for growth in the country, according to USA Cricket. The U.S. will host the tournament a few years before cricket comes to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Della Penna, who has covered cricket for nearly two decades, also said the move is financially motivated.

“[The ICC] made sure to put the India and Pakistan match on U.S. soil because they know there’s a couple million people in the [South Asian] diaspora who are massive cricket fans,” Della Penna said.

Cricketers Liam Plunkett, center left, and Dwayne Bravo, center right, pose for pictures with children during a media day to mark 100 days to go until the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 co-hosted in the West Indies and the U.S., at Times Square in New York City, Feb. 22, 2024.
Mike Stobe | Icc | Getty Images

Tasmai Krishnan, a teenage cricket enthusiast in India and host of podcast “Cricstatic,” said the sport is an “integral part” of Indian culture. With new sports such as pickleball gathering popularity, Tasmai said he hopes cricket will also grow in the U.S. and he’s interested to see how the U.S. will fit into the global cricket circuit after the world cup.

“Coming from an Indian perspective, this opens another range of cricket here because it unlocks another country that is going to be a fierce competitor in the future,” Tasmai said. “This is a great learning opportunity for the U.S. team, and to see a nation like the U.S. participating, it really fills my heart with joy.”

‘A dream come true’

The match between the U.S. and India will strike an interesting balance for Indian Americans in choosing which country to cheer for, Della Penna said.

One of those people is George Samuel, a resident of Nassau County, New York, where some of the world cup games will take place. Samuel is the head coach and director of Queens United Cricket Academy, which cultivates cricket skills for children and teens. Though he immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1987, he also coached cricket in England, Australia and South Africa. When he got to New York, he wanted to pass down the sport.

“I was super excited,” he said about learning the world cup would be taking place in his backyard. “I never thought that this was going to happen when I came to this country — it’s a dream come true.”

Samuel, who already has his tickets secured, said he believes this world cup will be a launching pad for cricket to take off in the U.S. — but he’s not rooting for either side in the final match.

“I like to see good cricket. I don’t have loyalty. I want to see the U.S. show good talent, and I want to see that good bat and bowl and lots of sixers,” he said. A “sixer” is the cricket equivalent of a baseball home run.

Samuel’s teenage son, Jeremy, said that despite his family’s Indian roots, he’s cheering for the U.S., the country he was born in, because he wants to play cricket professionally and for the U.S. team.

Jeremy also has his tickets for the world cup, along with his friends, none of whom have witnessed a major cricket match before.

“It’s really exciting to be able to watch it here — it’s 15 minutes away from my house,” he said. “It’s a big moment for us to finally see one. … It makes me feel happy because now more people will know about cricket and will start to play it.”

Others are more interested in supporting the Indian team against its traditional rivals.

California resident Mythili Sankaran, who said she has watched every match India has played in the last 25 years, said she isn’t even watching the U.S.-India match and is traveling to New York only for the India-Pakistan installment of the world cup.

“Growing up in India with the Indian team, we were always the underdogs. Now, India is one of the most, if not the most, promising and powerful team in world cricket,” said Sankaran, who said she played cricket at the university level in India before immigrating to the U.S.

“To be able to watch all these international stars, to watch an India-Pakistan match in the U.S. — I didn’t think I’d do that in my lifetime,” she said. “I think the cricket audience in the U.S. is maturing largely due to Indian Americans, and it’s about time.”

And ultimately, Sankaran said, she hopes the world cup marks the start of a new era.

“What I’m hoping is … people get to see women’s cricket in the U.S. as well,” she said. “The U.S. women’s cricket team is actually doing quite well, so I’m hoping that there will be a lot more awareness and visibility to that.”

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