English cricket has an identity crisis. It needs a franchise system, one like that currently employed in Australia (Only six First Class teams) to get people attending cricket matches and specifically Twenty20 matches. It can’t do it though. It can’t do it because of fear, a fear that runs through the veins of each of the eighteen English counties, or at least the less glamorous ones. The general consensus is that eighteen teams is too many. Tradition is preventing English cricket from progressing. If English cricket were to introduce a franchise system that has six, eight, ten or even twelve city based franchises then what will happen to the counties that are not represented?
I did attempt to answer this question but then realised that it’s a whole other post, one for another time maybe!
Back to the matter in hand. English cricket has an identity crisis. American cricket does not!
Okay, it probably does but not in the same way that English cricket does. For all it’s travails, poor administration and despite brief flirtations to make cricket popular in the US, cricket stateside is effectively a blank canvas. It’s therefore amazing that some eccentric billionaire hasn’t yet invented the Stateside Smash. India has the IPL, South Africa the Ram Slam, Australia the Big Bash and the USA could and should have the Stateside Smash. A northern hemisphere clash with the English game and lack of facilities are the major stumbling blocks. There are limited cricket facilities in the USA but if somebody really wanted it to happen, it could happen.
If we hypothetically start on a small scale with just six teams, six state based franchises. Let’s say California, Florida, Indiana, New York, Texas and Washington. This provides a reasonable national geographical split as well having teams located somewhere near supposedly existing cricket stadiums. Basically we’re looking for some big money backers to get these franchises up and running, amongst other things potentially funding the construction of purpose built stadia. Lauderhill’s Central Broward Regional Park (Florida) is the only purpose built cricket stadium in the entire US. The USA is a big country (No really it is!) so unlike most domestic sports competitions the tournament could be held World Cup style in just one city. There could be two or even three matches a day on the same ground. This happens on T20 Finals Day in England and could still involve less wear and tear than a First Class or List A match. A six team tournament with each team playing each other once in the group stage and including a semi-final and third place play off would require eighteen matches so even with non game days for ground reparation / player respite, a tournament could be completed in two or certainly three weeks time. The winner of the tournament could then host the following year’s competition or there could be a preplanned rotational hosting.
This might get things up and running but of course meritocracy and complete regional representation would be required to get all of the country involved and have a team to root for. There are fifty states in the USA (No really, there are!). These could be divided into six divisions. North East, North West, North Central, East Central, South East and South West with two groups of nine and four groups of eight teams for the preliminary rounds providing a regional qualifier and six-team national finals competition representatives. For the preliminaries a league only format would be employed, no finals, top of the table goes through, simple as that. A nine-team group would require 72 matches if each team played each other home and away but only 36 if the home and away element were alternated annually. An eight-team group would require either 56 matches or just 28.
Of course a state such as California has more than one big city, examples being Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco and Nevada’s capital is Carson City not Las Vegas. Potential backers from each of these cities might like a piece of the action. If the infrastructure is put in place teams could have more than one home ground during the preliminaries to attract fans from various cities and could therefore have more than one stadium per state. This could lessen the strain on the just one ground finals tournament idea.
A city-based franchise is an appealing option and has been successful in Australia and India but the opportunity to provide an equal geographical proportion is ultimately limited. Of course no city is under any obligation to create a team and if ten city based franchises were created in Florida but none in Chicago then so be it. Whilst it would be great to commence a new era in USA cricket with a nationwide equilibrium, ultimately meritocracy would be decisive. In Premier League football Manchester has two clubs in the Premier League whilst Sheffield’s leading clubs are currently outside the country’s top division. Paris, France has many football teams. In basketball Los Angeles has the LA Lakers and LA Clippers. It could be that the Stateside Smash commences with six city based franchises rather than state sides. These teams might be LA Angels, Los Angeles CC, San Francisco 17s (Year of foundation) New York City Pioneers, Fort Lauderhill Gators and Philadelphia Bats. That’s six teams with three from one state and two from one city. This doesn’t help gain nationwide appeal but if financial backers and cricket enthusiasts got these hypothetical teams off the ground first then they would be the six teams to compete in the Stateside Smash.
Not only would said teams need financial backers they would also need… players! Even if the Stateside Smash clashed with the start of the English county season and the IPL there would still be English players who aren’t involved in the IPL and aren’t quite expected to be in their county’s first XI at the start of the season or maybe some players that retired at the conclusion of the previous campaign but can handle a few weeks of Twenty20. Even if not the cream of the crop these players could help professionalise the American game. Domestic players from other parts of the world too could participate but it’s essential that American nationals are presented with the opportunity to work and play alongside these players and help provide national identity for Native American fans and ultimately provide a strong national team. Maybe the teams could have sixteen-man squads that contain a maximum of four international players and a minimum of twelve local players. There would surely be players nearing or having already reached the end of their playing careers keen to gain coaching experience. A month long stint in the US could be an ideal place to start.
It would be easy to write cricket’s prospects off in a country so fanatical about baseball but the success of soccer and its continued growth when competing with American football, baseball and basketball amongst other sports is an example of how a new generation can learn to love a new sport. It may be that like soccer, cricket can gain a strong female following and help the women’s game blossom.
In Tim Wigmore and Peter Miller’s ‘Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts’ Miller provides a chapter on USA. Miller writes “USA had all the ingredients needed for the creation of a Test-playing nation” but also details the administrative strife that cricket in America has been through. Tim Brooks also provides a chapter to the book (Nepal) and his exhaustively detailed ‘Cricket on the Continent’ provides many parallels to cricket in the USA’s position. Competition from other sports, regional concentration (activity, facilities and leagues) and the balance between being competitive (selecting expats) and developing local talent are just some of the issues that an emerging cricket nation must contend with.
In truth the idea of a Stateside Smash requires even more research and attention than I have provided but hopefully this article provides a slice of the pie in regards to what could be for cricket across the pond.