'I’ve been to two rodeos and three goat ropings and I ain’t seen nuthin’ like this,' was the reaction of an American baseball commentator when the Atlanta Braves recently mounted a freakish seven-run last-inning comeback.
When Sri Lanka play New Zealand in Miami this weekend, the response from the American audience may be something similar. On second thoughts, most of the fans will probably be expats from the sub-continent or the Caribbean. So most of the comments will be well informed.
However, if cricket is to become a viable sport in the USA, the officials have to attract some genuine American fans eventually. This is why the experiment this time, unlike those attempted in the past, is critical; the only way cricket is going to attract American fans in reasonable numbers is via the T20 format.
Past tours were all longer matches. In 1932, an Australian side toured America and Canada and despite the presence of Don Bradman (who was on his honeymoon), the game failed to capture the imagination of the Yanks. There was a publicity shot involving Bradman and Babe Ruth, then a huge star with the Yankees, and the inevitable comparisons were made between the two kings of their sport. But nothing came of it.
There were also publicity shots taken at a film studio in Hollywood, but actors like Aubrey C Smith and Boris Karloff were already cricket fans from being UK citizens. I remember seeing photos from the tour of stars like Jeanette McDonald and Jean Harlow. The photos were on my grandfather’s mantelpiece, because Vic Richardson was the captain of the team.
Vic told a delightful story of a dinner party where Harlow kept referring to Margot Asquith (wife of British prime minister Herbert Asquith) as 'Margot', pronouncing the 'T'. Margot finally had enough and said to her, 'No, Jean, the ‘T’ is silent, like in ‘Harlow’.'
Hopefully the crowd won’t be quiet at Lauderhill where the T20 contests will take place. There are American cricket fans but they are few and far between. In 1973, the Australians were in a hotel bar in Kingston after the first day’s play when we heard this American drawl; 'Rod Marsh and Ian Chappell, I never thought I’d meet you guys.'
We asked the American what he was doing in Kingston and he replied: 'My wife and I travel from Philadelphia every year to watch the Sabina Park Test.'
However, he said he wouldn’t be attending the remainder of game because his wife felt threatened by the crowd. We asked if he’d change his mind if we could get him tickets for the member’s stand and he replied, 'Yes.'
That was a long time ago and since then I haven’t met any American cricket fans. Then there was the failed experiment in the Champions Trophy of 2004 when the USA was annihilated by New Zealand and Australia.
T20 is the correct vehicle to promote the game and if they come up with the right formula combining business and cricket administration in a franchise, they might just find a niche market.
That’s why the IPL needs to quickly sort out its problems so that the franchise model can eventually be exported to large markets like the USA, Europe and Japan.
The last time I witnessed a cricket tournament in the USA — the contest between India A and Australia A — it was spoiled by a terrible pitch. Hopefully conditions this time will be more conducive to entertaining cricket.
If the cricket isn’t top-class, then in future Americans will be more likely to visit a rodeo or a goat roping than attend another cricket match.