iconimg Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Yashwant Raj , Hindustan Times
Washington, April 10, 2014
Most Americans who play or follow baseball and understand cricket a bit, find the latter similar but slower, and boring. But ESPN believes that can be changed.

The premier sports network telecast the World T20 final live last Sunday, at no cost and without ads. The tournament was shown live, however, online. Again free.

"We think cricket has the chance to get out to a broader audience and be on a bigger platform," Russell Wolff, ESPN International's executive vice president, said last week.

It will know late on Wednesday how many people actually tuned in.

ESPN executives said that a decision was taken to try it after they noticed that the 10 most popular streams on its Internet-only ESPN3 were of cricket matches.

The India-Australia match on March 30 was watched live by 100,000 viewers (full disclosure: including this reporter).

There is a sizable population of immigrants from traditionally cricket playing nations here who play or follow the game, especially around the two World Cups — 50 and 20 overs.

ESPN may, however, be on to something here — 25 teams participated in the American College Cricket (ACC) national championship 2014 recently.

ESPN telecast the tournament live, which, according to tournament organisers, was a major feat as it was the first cricket tournament on American soil to be telecast live.

University of South Florida (USF Bulls) won the tournament, with a team of players all from India — half of them from Hyderabad — but one, who was from Pakistan.

The championship started in 2009, with five founding college teams — USF, Boston University, Montgomery College, Carnegie Mellon and University of Miami.

Cricket remains a long shot in a country where football (not soccer), baseball, auto racing, basketball and hockey (ice hockey) continuously poll as the most popular sports.

Soccer has lagged despite, perhaps, the longest-lasting hype billing it as the fastest growing sport, going back, for instance, to the time secretary of state John Kerry was growing up.

ESPN is known for trying out new and obscure sports such as competitive fishing. It may be an insult to cricket to speak of it in the same breath, but anything for a start.