It’s been a fair while in the making but today sees the first of three games in the United States played by the T20 All Stars. Two teams, one headed by Shane Warne and the other by Sachin Tendulkar, made up by some of the legends of the recent past. To say the teams are star-studded is an understatement – Ambrose, Lara, Akram, Jayawardene, Sehwag, the list goes on. The matches start in New York before moving to Houston and then Los Angeles.
All well and good, you might think. I’d certainly be interested in going if I lived in the States, I fell in love with the game from seeing some of these guys play, and even though some of them are getting on in years, seeing them in the flesh would be something of a thrill. (I saw a clip online of Ambrose warming up in the nets in New York, and even at 46 years old he can still chuck them down. Made me both nostalgic and excited). If the games weren’t on the middle of the night here, I’d probably watch.
I would be part of the target market of course, being an existing fan. The big issue is, will this tour do anything to attract new fans to the game, or will it just be the expat community who turn up? Now this is pretty hard to quantify, but it would seem that these matches will do very little for the development of the sport in the USA.
The reasons for this? Well firstly, I think a lot of people have been put off by the ticket prices, and criticism of them has come from many quarters. If you’ve never seen a cricket match before I doubt you would be willing to pay up to $350 to break your duck. Warne has been very defensive on this as you would expect. I get the feeling that Warne has a desperate need to be liked, which explains his hurt at the criticism. As I write the number of tickets sold across the three venues is approaching fifty percent, so you could argue that the pricing policy hasn’t worked as well as hoped.
Second, and more disappointing, is that the players don’t seem to have done much to take the game to local schools while they are in town. I’ve seen some of the players talking to kids at the grounds, but that’s about it. The former head of the ACF had a lot to say about this in a recent open letter, and I agree with a few of his points. It seems a shame that Warne and co have time for gala dinners and selfies at the New York stock exchange rather than really engaging with the local cricket communities.
Still, I think it would be naive not to say that these matches will spread awareness in the States in some form, and there will be a few kids who will pick up a cricket bat for the first time after watching and hopefully start a lifelong love of this great game. So whilst everything is not perfect, it is at least a start. I wish Warne and the rest of them well.