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Can the ICC finally crack the USA’s code?

The 2024 T20 World Cup in the United States could finally be the watershed moment the ICC has been dreaming of.

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In cricket’s hyper-saturated T20 era, true “firsts” are few and far between. New leagues, franchises, and even broken records are a dime a dozen; just consider the latest edition of the IPL, which now boasts a staggering eight of the top 10 highest team totals in the IPL’s increasingly storied history. But in a milieu where shiny new things are so common they blend seamlessly with the mundane, the 2024 T20 World Cup looms as a genuine first: it’s the first ICC World Cup of any kind be played in the United States.

It’s not just the host country that’s new, either. A record 20 teams will be participating in the tournament, and in addition to the USA – who qualified automatically for the tournament as co-hosts with the West Indies – Canada and Uganda will also be participating in the tournament for the first time. With the group stage also featuring teams from Papua New Guinea, Namibia, Oman and Nepal, it’s evident now that the T20 World Cup is now cricket’s only truly global competition, given the trends towards exclusivity in recent years of the 50-over tournament.

The tournament opener itself is a throwback to what has always been the most peculiar piece of cricketing trivia: it will be played between the two countries who contested the first ever international cricket match, the USA and Canada, with the North American neighbours first locking horns in 1844.

The USA has of course long been the ICC’s most important but challenging battleground. With the emergence of T20 and even T10 formats that cater to shorter audience attention spans, a nation-wide obsession with sport generally, and the most important ingredient – legions of south Asian expats – one would think cricket in the USA is finally primed for success. ICC push into USA

But despite significant investment over the years, including the proliferation of franchise-based T20 leagues over the last two decades, the ICC still hasn’t made any meaningful headway in the potentially lucrative USA market. After all, in the same way T20 leagues dominate the cricket landscape and present diminishing returns, so too are American televisions and stadiums inundated with an unrivalled volume of quality sport.

The ICC’s latest push into the country comes in the footsteps of a huge landmark in 2023: the inaugural Major League Cricket season, which, to USA Cricket’s great relief, was successful enough to avert the gaze from the unmitigated disaster that was the American Premier League in the same year.

Question marks remain, however. USA Cricket is plagued by governance issues, including allegations of financial mismanagement, a lack of trust amongst its players in the aftermath of recent pay negotiations, and a dearth of genuine international standard talent. And despite the ICC’s huge promotional outlay, including a tournament song by Jamaican rapper and singer Sean Paul, the appointment of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt as ambassador, and promotional spots at the recent F1 Grand Prix in Miami, it’s still unclear whether American audiences will genuinely connect with the sport.

And in that vein, in a strange way, the T20 World Cup is now poised for its IPL moment. While the IPL brought the financial horsepower of the American franchise-based sporting model to the cricketing world, the ICC push into USA now appears determined to woo new audiences with its own display of glitz and glamour.

And it needn’t look far for inspiration; the astronomical rise recently of Formula 1 in a NASCAR-loyal country is evidence enough that at its core, sport is an entertainment business, and audiences are always open to new ways of being entertained. While F1’s rise was fuelled by Netflix’s Drive to Survive series – easily the most commercially successful sporting docuseries of all time – there would be no success story without a viable product beneath it all, and that must remain the ICC’s core focus regardless of its promotional plans.

Traditionalists will decry the rampant commercialisation underpinning the tournament, but that would be to ignore the ICC’s overarching mandate: to grow the game and preserve its long-term future. And once that mandate is accepted, there is no doubt that this is the tournament that had to happen.

The biggest question is whether the ICC is actually ready for success. If the upcoming T20 World Cup does turn out to be cricket’s latest “IPL moment”, if Pandora’s box is opened once again: will the ICC be ready and willing to control what emerges?

READ MORE: My thoughts on India’s T20 World Cup 2024 Squad

Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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