The T20 ratings are both volatile and subject to starting rating. Shading indicates level of certainty.
Monday Melbourne: CCLII, February 2012
|USA (eq. Ger)||311600000||6300000||2.02182%|
To succeed at football, the United States needs somewhere between 0.3 and 2% of their population playing football. If we assume that only a fifth of the population plays sport at all, then the German figure requires significant mainstream exposure (some 10% of the population). The United does have that, largely at youth level with some 3 million players, so future success is likely if the talented athletes stay with the sport, but it takes years to build that level of support.
By contrast, cricket is a popular sport only insofar that a few really populous nations play it. The equivalent Western nations to Germany and the Netherlands have relatively small populations and therefore small playing bases (here I'll use adult participation, as I have it to hand).
|USA (eq. Aus)||311600000||164300||0.05273%|
|USA (eq. NZ)||311600000||58474||0.01877%|
To reach the level of New Zealand - frequent World Cup semi-finalists, if somewhat weak test team - the US would need only 58 thousand adult participants. Accounting for the proportion of the population that plays adult sports, only 1 in every 500 to 1000 people need to play cricket: roughly two thirds the level of organised participation that US rugby reports. In short: cricket doesn't need to be mainstream for the United States to be competitive. If cricket ever reached the levels of soccer in the United States, they'd be a dominant team.
Future Prospects for an American Cricket League
Starting a league is a difficult proposition. It needs players with sufficient star power to attract fans of the sport, venues in markets with the wealth to support a franchise and the organisational structure for promotion and touring. We'll deal with each in turn.
The MLS struggled and continues to struggle for credibility with its local fan base because it is perceived as a weak league. Faced with competition from European leagues for players and attention it is a sad second best. And that problem can be explained simply: it can't afford to pay market rates for good players.
The table below explains this succinctly. The medium team in the English Premier League has a wage roughly similar to an NBA team (approximately $60 million). Reported survey interest in the two leagues is 30% for the NBA and 45% for the EPL. Dividing the median wage by the interested population gives an interest factor that shows how much money is derived from the local sports market (both leagues make a considerable proportion of their money from off-shore). The US is a more competitive market. For US football to compete with UK football, it needs a similar market awareness to basketball: 30% of viewers, when it is currently at 15%.
|Population||Wage||%Interest||Interested Pop.||Interest Factor|
Cricket, by contrast has several advantages in breaking the US market with star players:
Applying the factor of interest for the NBA by that wage level gives a interest level of only 1% of Americans - some 3 million fans. A number not far from where some estimates put the American fan base without any American interest at all.
Nevertheless, a league with no American players will struggle to attract interest outside some narrow confines, so it is important to find players capable of performing close to first class level that can bolster the league. It is often suggested that lesser sports convert college players from various other sports, because a) often their skill sets will more closely match their adopted sport and b) the raw athletic talent from college programs that fails to become professional is very high.
The numbers support this proposition. In the tables below it can be seen from the populations of NZ and Australia, and the number of professional and national team cricketers in each nation that the top 0.01% of Australians (male, young adult) and 0.05% of New Zealanders make it to professional cricket. The equivalents for the a national team squad of 15 players are 0.0007% and 0.0034%.
|Population||Professionals||% Elig. Pop.||National Team||% Elig. Pop.|
There are around 22 million Americans of college age, so we can translate an equivalent percentage of the population for selected college sports, seen in the second column below. Obviously there is some overlap in the skill-sets of different sports, so the quality of the actual athletes is well below the percentage given. To account for this, we'll consider only the top 10% who'll presumable have the most translatable skills for cricket.
|Men's College Participation||College||% College Age Pop.||Professionals||% Elig. Pop.||Trans. skills||Aus Prof||NZ Nat|
The number of professionals is an estimate of the total number in various leagues. Basketball includes both the NBA and D-Leagues, but not Europe (although there are Europeans in the NBA, so it balances out). Baseball's league system is massive, even if only major league and triple-A is considered. While there are probably failed baseball players with decent cricket skills, getting them to cross over would be difficult. Tennis and golf are individual sports; every American ranked player as been considered a pro, despite being a gross exaggeration of the number deriving professional employment from the sport. For each sport an estimation of "translatable skills" has been applied: high for tennis, baseball and golf, low for soccer and basketball - although tall strong athletes are potential quick bowlers.
From this it can be estimated that perhaps 112 players per year, mostly from tennis, might be able to transition to Australian level first-class cricket with a system in place; approximately 14 of those might be capable of New Zealand national team representation.1 While a more stable base of players was developed, league franchises could institute a system of invitational training camps following the end of the university year, accompanied by scholarships to play in the Southern Hemisphere in preparation for an April draft.
The take home message: mainstream cricket might be a pipe-dream in the United States (or it might not), but the nation is so big compared to its rivals mainstream penetration is not necessary to find capable American players, whereas in soccer it is.
Markets and Franchises
Assessment of US sports markets are routinely done to discuss expansion franchises. Because cricket is small, and a league relatively inexpensive (equivalent to an MLS team), the number of potential markets is huge, and includes both the obvious (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Washington) and several with significant numbers of existing cricket fans, cricket history and/or no local sports team with a potentially amenable local government (San Jose, Austin, Philadelphia, Hartford, Fort Lauderdale). This is helped too, by the absence of competing sports for a large part of what would constitute the US cricket season. Assuming a May start, the league would kick off during the NBA/NHL playoffs, and middle of the MLB season as it grinds its way towards the playoffs. With an early September finish, it will both avoid the MLB and MLS playoffs and the start of the NFL juggernaut.
Cricket's large ovals have both advantages and disadvantages. The downside is there are no practical venues as of now. Unlike soccer that can use existing athletic or football fields, cricket needs to develop its own grounds, and the only potential ground partner would be Aussie Rules football - an even smaller sport. The upside is they need minimal infrastructure to cater for a large crowd: a grass bank, some corporate marquees, camera emplacements. Light towers are more difficult to organise, but the unique urban forms of the United States offer large tracts of land on the well-to-do suburban fringe, or in a number of cities, a blighted inner area; and in many places former minor league stadiums that could be converted with an expanded playing area and renovations.
Preparing a team and the ground to first class standards requires a different set of expertise however, and there is no evidence those skills are available in the USACA.
Getting a significant number of first class players into the United States in their off season will require a commitment from the full member boards. New Zealand has already signed onto a partnership, but they are a relatively small board; a competition of requisite size to succeed with local fans will need support from Australia, South Africa and India as well. The full member boards are vital because they bring with them skills not found inside the United States that would otherwise cost a significant amount to import: the preparation of quality pitches, coaching, and in India's case: players who can be marketed into cricket's biggest market.
The list of needs particular to the United States is much longer: partnerships with ticket-agents and television broadcasters, internet sites and live streaming capacity, local marketing and researchknowledge, relationships with the press, and experience with making team travel arrangements.
There is some scope for looking at existing American franchises to partner with and provide those services. For NBA teams, specifically, there are several unique advantages:
It is difficult to see how an American league could succeed without some form of partnership with overseas cricket bodies, and the right people in the United States. Unfortunately the USACA are clearly not the right people, and nor are the types of people who've previously been associated with cricket in the United States. A concerted effort by ICC full members to forge a domestic league using their playing resources would come close to breaking even, and allow a base to build. As with the expansion of the World Cup to allow emerging markets access to the promotional benefits of major tournament access, and the playing of international games against weaker nations, the ICC full members have been derelict in their duty to promote the game outside their own narrow confines.2
The American Market and Cricket
American sports have never shied away from worldwide expansion. Australia got its introduction to top flight baseball in 1888, with a tour from the king of sporting entrepreneurs Albert Spalding. A quote from The Argus at the time is illustrative of how deeply the myths about Americans and cricket run:
"Men who are familiar with cricket and baseball consider that the former is the more pleasant game for those who play it, but the latter vastly more attractive to the spectators when they are as familiar with it as with cricket. The very fact that the great lack of interest in cricket evident in this colony for some time past is attributed to want of sufficient excitement in the game and to the issue being too long delayed, justifies the promoters of baseball in the belief that their game is likely to become popular in Australia. In it the excitement is sustained throughout. There is no blocking or what in cricket would he called "playing" the ball. Every effort is either a full force hit or a miss, and three misses with playable balls put the batsman out. Like football the game lasts for two hours only, so that the match is definitely decided one way or another in an afternoon ; while by calling play at four o'clock, as is very often done in America a match can be got through without any material interference with the ordinary duties of the day. In America it would be utterly impossible to sustain public interest through a four days' game at cricket, and inclinations of lovers of field sports in Australia would appear to lean very largely towards those of the Americans."
All the tropes are there. The length of time to play and the advantages of a short game; the belief that multi-day cricket was dying; the excitement in seeing the ball hit as opposed to defended. The popularity of T20 cricket shows that these are not entirely without merit, but it is worth reflecting on cricket's enduring popularity in spite of its decades of struggle.
Also notable was the reference to the "temperament" for watching a four-day game being lacking in Americans, although here apparently it was also lacking in Australians, and there is no sign that is true. Personally I find it hard to fathom how people can equate a nation that supports seven game playoff series and a very rich golf tour with an aversion to multi-day events. But I also bring this up to note that the native supporters of cricket in the United States I've encountered are invariably fans of test match cricket. Because while they first encountered the one-day game, it is the test match that offers the scope for narrative and unique sporting experience. Thus, while it is quite reasonable, as shown, that America could support a T20 summer league sporting the best players from around the world, and use that to develop their own cricketers, cricket's greatest selling point remains the test match.
As a final note on this, cricket cultures are unique. Test match cricket in the United States will not be test match cricket in England, or Australia, or India. Of primary importance in marketing the game is that it is presented as an American sport. Van Bottenburg's study, Global Games on sports popularity made a very important point on this matter:
"When choosing a sport you are not merely deciding between different forms of physical exertion and competition; you are also deciding between different groups of people."
Cricket failed in the United States in the past because it was the "English village sport", popular in periods of Anglophilia, and unpopular in times of nationalism. Similarly, any modern attempts to market cricket need to avoid it being seen as the sport of immigrants - a problem that has always afflicted football in both Australia and the United States - or a sport of gimmicks (which are fads at best). What American cricket most needs, is for its fans to be treated with respect, not potential gold mines for exploitation.
1 As a side note, the numbers for AFL footballers indicate several hundred players capable of being amongst the thousand odd professional footballers. That's the perfect storm for reality TV: last-chance athletes with reasonable name awareness trying to break into obscure but immensely popular Australian basketball/football hybrid through an international draft after 8-9 months of training, overcoming cuts, injuries and their own incompetence along the way.
2 Somehow this trend has worsened in the past 10 years, progressive initiatives like the Champions' Trophy (yes, dud tournament, but still progressive) have gone by the wayside. The Champions League, for example, is the perfect vehicle for an American audience to see decent, not exhibition, cricket.
Singapore may be the unluckiest team in world cricket. Having missed out on promotion from WCL5 in highly controversial circumstances in the last edition, they also missed out on the opportunity to qualify for the WT20Q because of an unfortunate (and slightly unfair) relegation from the Asian T20 championships two years ago. On home soil they will be favourites to progress from this tournament. That is by no means certain though, as only a fool would seek to determine the likely winners when such paper-thin margins separate the teams involve.
The two teams relegated from division four may actually be the two weakest. Both were outmatched by the teams above. Argentina are in a rebuilding phase, and their coach acknowledged Cayman Islands as the better side; it will be a surprise if they can arrest their drop through the divisions. Malaysia will renew its rivalry with Singapore after a strong showing in the Asian WT20Q and looks a good bet to be promoted. Bahrain - also denied an opportunity at the WT20 qualifiers - are something of a dark horse; like Guernsey they are likely to hover at this level, but there is no reason either couldn't be either promoted or relegated in an even competition.
|Expected Margin||Ireland by 60 runs|
|Actual Margin||Ireland by 10 runs|
A remarkable match in a patch of remarkable games. Reports of the ball turning square from early on; it was arguably, the 43 runs Ireland scored before Varaiya was introduced that won them the game. Thereafter the spinners dominated - although surprisingly, Porterfield waited a full 10 overs before bringing on Dockrell. The four spinners on show took all but four wickets: Varaiya 11/73, Ngoche 4/39, van der Merwe 11/68, Dockrell, 9/87. The latter battled a stomach complaint throughout the second innings though you'd hardly know it from his figures.
Amongst the first 38 wickets to fall there were only two knocks of substance. Ragheb Aga scored 46 in the first innings, getting Kenya first innings points after a collapse to 7/50 had made it seem unlikely. Aga is an interesting story. First in the team 8 years ago, he failed to crack county cricket, and is back with Kenya. Reports (and recent results) are indicative of a useful player in a team that needs one. The highest score though, came from the experienced head of Ed Joyce: an attacking 54 (64 balls) that ought to have been more. He retired hurt overnight only to appear just before lunch anyway as Ireland collapsed a second time.
Fortunately for them, Kenya collapsed twice too. At 8/36, Kenya was only a third of their way to the target when Varaiya and Nelson Odhiambo took the crease. But, sensible play took them closer and closer, changing the game from a statistical anomaly into something the (very) few who witnessed will no doubt long remember. Odhiambo was caught (32) at short mid-wicket at 9/94, still 25 short; Ngoche - not one for doing it in singles - smote 13 off 8 balls to bring the target to 11. Unfortunately Varaiya popped a ball up for short-fine-leg the next over.
Kenya will be pleased to have made a contest of a game they were expected to be out-matched in, Ireland might wonder, notwithstanding the pitch, what is wrong with their batting that it continues to collapse so badly. Nevertheless, they once again took the points and are well placed to make the final at year's end.
|Expected Margin||Scotland by 59 runs|
Their failure to qualify for the WT20 qualifiers aside, the U.A.E. have been in outstanding form recently, including in a moral victory over reigning I-Cup champions Afghanistan. Scotland will be missing Coetzer for this game - he is playing in the BPL - and his experience will be sorely missed on pitches that proves difficult for England. The ratings suggest a Scottish victory, and they still have the team to do so. My sense is that an upset for the gulf state on the back of their high scoring middle order, is more likely.
|Rankings at 15th February 2012|
Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.
Towers in the sun. Taken January 2012
|Expected Margin||England by 100 runs|
|Actual Margin||Pakistan by 71 runs|
There are two types of straight sets losses in a tennis match; the type where the winner waltzes through; and the type where the loser fails to win the right moments in tie-breaks. England's loss was the cricketing equivalent of the latter. Arguably they ought to have won the series; except they didn't, because they couldn't get the job done when it mattered.
The failures were almost entirely the fault of the batsmen. Broad and Anderson were far better than they ought to have been on relatively flat pitches; Panesar and Swann were both very good. Yet Pakistan won the war, because, as they do most often these days, they stayed in the game long enough. Azhar Ali is a very impressive young batsman, and Younis Khan a very under-rated great one. Together they and Misbah ul Haq put together 303 second innings runs in two partnership, book-ended by collapses of 12/127 and 7/34.
England's batting against spin was marginally better in this game, but they still found themselves stroke-less, prodding and poking at the ball like children armed with sticks fighting off a snake. The middle order that dominated last year ended the series in the record books: Pietersen, so paranoid about the lbw threat his normal stride forward could bring left his stumps open again; Bell, unable to read the spin was a mercy kill; Morgan betraying his lack of confidence through his attacking play.
Ajmal and Rehman did the damage with the ball, although Umar Gul proved useful in the second innings. Owing to their horrible start to the game (5/21 and 7/44), Pakistan were never completely comfortable. But they had the confidence in their ability, and the slow scoring rate ensured they'd have plenty of time to broach defences. England's failures bring their ranking down a little, with little prospect of immediate gains; Pakistan, by contrast could move into second with some more big wins. Unfortunately it will be many months until they have that opportunity.
|Expected Margin||Ireland by 60 runs|
These are bad times for Kenyan cricket. Their golden generation retied, their youth not as strong, but still saddled with the expectation that they be in the top few associates. Their recent form is dire, losing a string of games to their fellow African nations, and being thrashed by the UAE in their previous I-Cup game (the game against the Netherlands being washed out). At home to Ireland at the tail-end of their summer, they ought to be competitive. But (nearly) full strength Ireland are almost certainly beyond them. An innings loss looks a more likely bet than a win.
|Rankings at 9th February 2012|
Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.