On Sunday, Aug. 27, the final match in the inaugural US Masters T10 cricket tournament was played at the Central Broward Stadium, in Lauderhill, Florida.
Ten overs per side does not seem very long for a cricket match to develop the ebbs and flows generated by longer formats. Some players may not be able to contribute very much to the outcome. Bowlers, for example, are only allowed two overs each. Conversely, every ball is vital toward the outcome.
Promotion of the format occurred in the UAE in December 2017. Approved by the Emirates Cricket Board and sanctioned by the International Cricket Council, the competition is titled as the T10 league or Abu Dhabi T10.
Its founder and chair, Shaji UI Mulk, is an India-born UAE billionaire businessman. The tournament was launched and is owned by T Ten Sports Management, which is also behind the US Masters event. Other T10 tournaments have sprung up in the Caribbean, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.
The US Masters T10 followed on from the inaugural US T20 Major League Cricket. This comprised 19 matches and six franchise teams, namely MI New York, Texas Super Kings, Los Angeles Knight Riders, Seattle Orcas, San Francisco Unicorns, and Washington Freedom.
Although each name carries that of a city, the matches were played at only two locations, Grand Prairie, near Dallas, Texas and Morrisville, North Carolina. The former is a converted ex-baseball stadium on which $20 million has been spent to redevelop it just in time for the opening match. It has 7,200 seats, double the capacity at Morrisville.
This is hardly ideal if the league’s ambitions to be in the top three best global T20 tournaments are to be realised. A new stadium is planned to be built in each city where a franchise is based.
The vehicle for achieving this is American Cricket Enterprises which is reported to have raised $120 million for the purpose. All teams are owned by ACE, with investor-operators, who have invested in the company, assigned to each team.
Four of those investors are Indian, existing franchise owners in the Indian Premier League and in other T20 tournaments. The other two franchises have Asian Indian owner-entrepreneurs who have appointed Australian cricket coaching and high-performance analysts.
Despite the heavy Indian involvement, the tournament promoters understand it is vital to create an American brand, appealing to the American market, deploying marketing tactics honed in other US sports.
Skepticism exists about the chances of doing this beyond the Indian sub-continent diaspora. Matches were scheduled for the cooler evenings to target domestic audiences rather than television viewers in India. Tournament organizers reported 80 percent occupancy at Dallas and full occupancy at Morrisville, an aggregate attendance of some 70,000 people, a very encouraging outcome.
An obvious demographic to target in the MLC’s inaugural phase is the South Asian population. According to the US Census Bureau, the Indian population in the US has risen from around 800,000 in 1990 to 4.4 million in 2020. The broader Asian population is 20 million. These numbers have fuelled a growth to more than 200,000 players in 400 leagues.
Willow, the America-based dedicated cricket channel, broadcast MLC live in North America. CBS showed three MLC matches. Overseas networks broadcast matches in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and India.
Each of the six teams had a purse of $1.15 million to spend on a squad of between 15 and 18 players, of which nine could be overseas players. Domestic players were picked via an eight-round draft, each carrying a different salary. The average salary was $40,000. Overseas players were signed directly on an average salary of $80,000. Some well-known players were attracted, mainly from Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, and South Africa, together accounting for 85 of the overseas complement.
Notably, only one current English player was recruited. July and August are the peak of the English season. This year saw the denouement of the Ashes in July and the Hundred occupied August alongside the one-day competition. Thus, the opportunities for MLC to attract contracted players was restricted. In future, this may well change. MLC has a limited pool of domestic players on which to call, which is one reason why it has allowed up to nine overseas players per franchise.
This has caused some disquiet within the ICC and more than one national board.
Calls for a limit on the number of overseas players in franchised squads and teams were heard to the extent of a four-seven split between overseas and local players. If implemented, this balance would have a seriously damaging impact on MLC and on the Emirates ILT20 because of their respective limited domestic talent pools. Each board needs time to develop local talent.
Fortunately for them, on July 13, the ICC board ratified a recommendation that no restrictions would be placed on already approved leagues but that future leagues may be subject to different regulations. In addition, players from associate members can be classed as local.
The MLC has medium-term plans to expand the number of teams, which will place even greater focus on the required number of overseas players. Tensions inherent in the relations between national boards, franchise leagues, and the ICC’s role of both governing and globally expanding the game are entering a new phase.
In the US, a new infrastructure is being built for cricket. This is not just stadiums, training facilities, and pitches, or a high-profile franchise league. To support the development of local talent, a 26-team privately owned franchise Minor League Cricket League was established in 2021.
It provides a pathway for domestic players to progress to the MLC and the national team.
Investors are providing strong financial backing and long-term commitment. They accept that immediate success and return on investment is unlikely and are prepared to take a 10-year view.
Amidst on-going skepticism, the double-headed attack by T10 and T20 formats on North America may succeed where previous attempts to establish cricket as a mainstream sport failed.