Vaneisa: Why resurgent West Indies should still be mindful of USA Cricket’s rise

We lost the first 2024 ICC T20 World Cup Super Eight match against England in a clinical encounter that brought a harsh dose of reality.

A match report here is not rele­vant. Suffice it to say that while the batters are more willing to take singles, there are still far too many dot balls, 51, on what has been a more favourable surface for batting than most others in the World Cup tournament so far.

West Indies batsman Johnson Charles has been a mixed bag at the 2024 ICC T20 World Cup.
Photo: CWI Media

West Indies, who defeated USA last night, still have to play South Africa tomorrow. And they have to win in order to be one of the two teams from the group to qualify for the semi-finals.

This is the stage where vulnerabi­lities will be pounced upon, and we cannot imagine that a strategy where someone has to come out and play a blinder is a feasible plan.

All of the teams that have qualified for this round have demonstrated their strengths and weaknesses and there is nothing to suggest that any of the upcoming matches will be walkovers.

USA cricket, which offered a memorable performance at this tournament, has had a long period of gestation—most of it unnoticed because of the lack of resources to build it.

USA pacer Ali Khan is well known to local cricket fans, due to successful CPL stints with the Trinbago Knight Riders.

With the formation of Major League Cricket last year, the development has been phenomenal. We know the genesis of that growth: immigrants. We know where they come from; most are from the established Test cricket nations, and they have pedigree.

Probably more important, they would want to show their lineage to the lands of their ancestry; they would want to pay homage to their traditions; and signifi­cantly, to establish their presence in the grand old USA.

It hasn’t been easy for them to be accepted; has it?

Earlier this week, the Columbia Journalism Review magazine published an article headlined: “The US is hosting a World Cup. You (probably) haven’t heard about it.”

USA bowler Saurabh Netravalkar (centre) is congratulated by teammates during the 2024 ICC T20 World Cup.
Photo: ICC/ Getty Images

It focused mainly on the role of the media in putting cricket on the radar of a population more interested in basketball and baseball.

The team beat both Canada and Pakistan in the early stages, “a result that members of the international sporting press hailed as one of the greatest cricket upsets in recent memory [Pakistan], maybe ever… ‘US Scores Historic Cricket Win’, the Times wrote in a headline, ‘but Only Pakistan Notices’,” was the CJR report.

Over at Al Jazeera, where they were dubbed the “unexpected darlings” of the tournament, the question was: “how did a team of a motley crew of cricketers become world beaters in two weeks?”

TKR pacer Ali Khan (centre) is congratulated by teammates Darren Bravo (right) and Sunil Narine after claiming the wicket of SKNP batsman Chris Gayle during 2018 CPL Eliminator action at the Brian Lara Academy in Tarouba on 14 September 2018.
Photo: Allan V Crane/ CA-Images/ Wired868

The article says that when USA Cricket (USAC) was granted ODI status by the ICC in 2019, and the waiting period for players to qualify was reduced from five years to three, they went on an immediate recruitment drive.

They pulled in the former Australian player, Stuart Law, to be head coach, who took up duties in May, and here is his plan.

“We have got to try and ‘Americanify’ this whole cricket thing here in the States,” he told Al Jazeera.

USA batsman Steven Taylor was born in America to a Jamaican father.
He has played regional cricket in Jamaica and was once Akeal Hosein’s teammate at Barbados Tridents.

This statement caught my eye, because I have no doubt that this will be significant for the direction of cricket.

Perhaps India has already dramatically changed it, and the formula will be similar: broadcast rights, sponsorships, mega stars, and of course World Series championships—okay, so Kerry Packer already did that, but you know how Americans like to brand everything with them at the centre.

And they have the resources to do it on a large scale.

USA spinner Harmeet Singh won the ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup with India.
Photo: Matt Roberts/ ICC/ Getty Images

With West Indies cricket still lacking adequate funding, and trying to jog the invisible conscience of the ICC regarding more equitable sharing of finances, there is an ominous undertone to this.

Already, the distribution of matches to regional stadia has become increasingly sparse (alongside the quantity of Test allocations), and soon it is possible that these may find themselves gobbled up by US venues. Compare the crowd attendances at regional venues and those in the USA.

When Guyana’s President, Dr Irfaan Ali, warned that it was a development that ought to be of concern to the region, he urged a shift in the way West Indians market the game as a counter.

West Indies supporters cheer on their team during their T20 World Cup clash with New Zealand at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Among his recommendations were strategic emphases on Caribbean culture. Carnivals, cuisine, climate, music, hospitality, parties—all peripheral elements—but designed to capitalise on the commercial aspects aligned to tourism.

From fairly early in its history, West Indians have transformed the global game, infusing those characteristics and bringing excitement, colour and festivity.

West Indian players have a distinctive style, too. It isn’t only in the remarkable collection of bling that makes one wonder how they are not physically hurt when they run and dive with heavy gold chains clanging down on them.

West Indies batting all rounder Kyle Mayers trains with his gold chain.
Photo: CWI Media

I wonder if you gathered them all and weighed them what it would tally!

The flamboyance, the swagger goes back a long way; don’t think it is a recent thing at all. I was idly observing that of all the players in this T20 World Cup, only West Indians had hairstyles with vivid streaks of colour—Shimron Hetmeyer displays the most bravado with his fuchsias and blues.

There is a true brand identity that defines West Indian cricket; is it enough?

West Indies vice-captain Alzarri Joseph (left) gives teammate Andre Russell a hand during their T20 World Cup encounter with New Zealand at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

With a series of wins, interest has returned. Maybe that might be the game shifter.

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