Captains of the six MLC teams pose with the trophy ahead of the start of the tournament. Image: MLC, Twitter D
avid Miller and Andre Russell are taking the bowlers to the cleaners in a T20 match, but this is neither the IPL nor the CPL. Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Major League Cricket (MLC), an IPL-style domestic franchise competition that begins its journey in the United States, a country that worships baseball, a bat-and-ball duel of another kind, as its national pastime.
What’s that again?
MLC is a six-franchise T20 tournament that just got underway in the USA at the Grand Prairie Stadium in Texas that, ironically, was once home to the Texas Airhogs, a minor baseball side. The team folded in 2020, post the Covid-induced shutdown of the season, after which MLC signed a long-term lease to redevelop the stadium for cricket.
What’s the format?
The 19-game tournament that began on July 13 (6 am IST on July 14) will be played across two venues—in Dallas and Morrisville. Just like the IPL, a round-robin phase will be followed by a Qualifier and an Eliminator, and subsequently the final on July 30. The six team captains are all accomplished international cricketers: Kieron Pollard (MI New York), Sunil Narine (Los Angeles Knight Riders), Faf du Plessis (Texas Super Kings), Aaron Finch (San Francisco Unicorns), Wayne Parnell (Seattle Orcas) and Moises Henriques (Washington Freedom).
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Is it just another league?
Not really. MLC has been founded by Sameer Mehta and Vijay Srinivasan, who launched Willow TV, a cricket streaming app, in the US in the early 2000s, before selling it to the Times Group in 2016. [Willow TV has now acquired the IPL streaming rights in the USA and Canada and will also stream the MLC in the US.]
The league has received sanction from both the ICC and US Cricket, and about $120 million has already been pumped into it. Its backers include Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, who will run the Seattle Orcas in partnership with GMR-JSW, the owners of IPL franchise Delhi Capitals.
IPL franchise, did you say?
Four of the six MLC franchises are owned/co-owned by IPL franchises—Kolkata Knight Riders, Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Capitals. The other two have Indian connections as well—the fifth is owned by Indian-American entrepreneur Sanjay Govil, while the sixth belongs to Anand Rajaraman and Venky Harinarayan (of Rocketship.vc). The two teams have also signed a strategic partnership with New South Wales cricket and Cricket Victoria, respectively, to provide operations support. Also read: Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings ranks no 1 in brand and business enterprise value: Report
Has the US ever played cricket?
Oh yes, big time. The first ever international cricket game played was between the US and Canada, in 1844, a good 33 years before the first Test match was played between England and Australia. The Philadelphia Cricket Club, established in 1854, enjoyed a golden period before the Civil War upended the game and made way for baseball to strike deep into American society.
What about recent times?
A professional domestic league was played for a single season in 2004, while a Major Cricket League launched the following year with the backing of Caribbean legends like Desmond Haynes and Clive Lloyd didn’t survive either. A few exhibition matches featuring Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar have been played on US soil, so have international fixtures featuring India and the West Indies. In fact, the two teams, which are playing a multi-format bilateral series as we speak, will play the last two T20 matches at Lauderhill in Florida. The 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup is also scheduled to be jointly hosted by West Indies and the US. And if you’ve been watching women’s cricket, American Tara Norris and her exploits in the Women’s Premier League and county cricket will surely ring a bell. Also read: IPL's taking the game deep despite a tough economy
Will Americans really watch cricket?
Million-dollar question. But with the surging population of expats from the subcontinent and the Caribbean, cricket will always find takers in the US. The MLC had announced that tickets for the opening fixture between Texas and Los Angeles had sold out even before the tournament began. The US also made it to the qualifiers of the Cricket World Cup, which recently concluded in Zimbabwe, and, while they failed to win a match, it surely would have created a buzz. As MLC co-founder Sameer Mehta told ESPNcricinfo, “Growing cricket in America is not a piece of cake... it's taken us four years, and we've got somewhere. I feel very good with where we are right now. We are at the start of something.”