Cricket at neutral venues is the way forward for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Even as India prepares for two T20 matches against the West Indies in Florida, Board secretary Anurag Thakur is convinced that the cricket market was waiting to be explored at non-traditional venues.
“From where I see it, neutral venues help in promoting the sport amongst a captivate fan base. In the past, cricket has been played at neutral venues such as Canada or the UAE and the response was overwhelming. Neutral venues present a win-win situation because on one hand it helps explore new markets and fans and on the other, it promotes the game, thereby contributing towards the growth of the sport,” Thakur told The Hindu.
He was confident of cricket becoming a global sport. “If we want cricket to be a global sport then these kinds of steps should be taken. Look at football clubs like Manchester United or Real Madrid. They travel across the world to increase their fan base.”
Why cricket in the United States? “I firmly believe that fans are our biggest strength and need to be well taken care of. With the intent to cater to close to 3.8 million Indians and a significant number of Asians in the US, this step was taken.
“We are well aware of the excitement and craze these fans have for cricket and Team India and which has taken them to different parts of the world to cheer and support their favourite team. They connect to their roots through cricket; it is this fervour and excitement that led us to organise cricket matches in the United States. We are hoping to provide quality cricket to fans who are deprived of the same otherwise.”
He saw a striking similarity between cricket and baseball.
“Baseball is similar to cricket and is one of the most followed games in the US. The success of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) can be credited to this fact.
“Twenty20 would be an ideal format to connect audiences inclined towards baseball as the fast moving format provides the same excitement. I am certain that this initiative will be well received by a large number of existing fans and cultivate potential fan base, thereby popularising the sport,” Thakur emphasised.
But cricket at Toronto did not help the game grow in that part of the world.
“The matches played in Canada with Pakistan and the West Indies was an unprecedented success. The series had gained popularity in the cricketing arena and Toronto was then considered as an upcoming neutral venue to host international cricket.
“However, diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan was impacted due to the Kargil war in 1999 and India suspended all cricketing ties with Pakistan.
“Having said that, the game of cricket received an overwhelming response and the credit for it could be given to the large number of Indians residing in the country.
“We foresee a similar response from the large Indian and Asian audience in the US, making the series a huge success.”
Was it not a desperate move to make the most of the T20 popularity?
“The selection of format has nothing to do with popularity of T20. The BCCI has strategically selected the T20 format for the United States, as it will resonate with the sports enthusiasts given the similarity to baseball.”
Thakur did not agree that the respective Boards were guilty of organising too much cricket. “We are extremely careful about the workload of the players and have planned in a manner that players have time to recover. For example, just after the IPL our key players got a month’s break. After the current series (against the West Indies) they again have a 20-day break before playing against New Zealand. During the England series we have a 25-day break.
“We have a larger pool of players to rotate so that everyone gets ample opportunities and key players get rest.
“I don’t think there is too much cricket at this stage as far as BCCI is concerned,” Thakur concluded.