The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) believes that staging cricket at neutral venues is the way forward. As India prepares for the two-match T20 series against the West Indies in Florida, the BCCI president, Anurag Thakur, is of the view that the cricket market was waiting to be explored in non-traditional venues.
“From where I see it, neutral venues help in promoting the sport amongst a captive fan base. In the past, cricket had been played in neutral venues such as Canada, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and the response received had been overwhelming," says Thakur.
"Neutral venues present a win-win situation because on the one hand it helps in exploring new markets, new fans and on the other, it promotes the game of cricket, thereby contributing towards the growth of the sport,” he adds.
Thakur is 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 the famous football clubs like Manchester United or Real Madrid. They travel across the world to increase their fan base,” he says.
Why cricket in the United States?
“I firmly believe that fans are our biggest strength and need to be taken care of well. With the intent to cater to close to 3.8 million Indians and a significant number of Asians in the United States, this step has been undertaken," says Thakur.
"We are well aware of the excitement and craze these fans bear for cricket and their love for Team India. They connect to their roots through cricket; it is this fervor 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.”
The BCCI president saw a striking similarity between cricket and baseball.
“I feel baseball is similar to cricket and is one of the most followed games in the US. The success of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) could be credited to this fact. Therefore, the T20 format would be ideal to connect with audiences inclined towards baseball. I am certain that this initiative will be well received by a large number of existing fans and would help cultivate a potential fan base, thereby popularising the sport,” Thakur explains.
When his attention is drawn to the fact that the five-match ODI series between India and Pakistan in 1997 in Toronto did not help the game grow in the region, Thakur responds: "The matches played in Canada with Pakistan and West Indies saw unprecedented success. The series had gained in popularity in the cricketing circles, and Toronto was then considered an upcoming neutral venue to host International cricket. However, diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan were affected after 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 the same should be given to the large number of Indians residing in Canada.
"Likewise, we foresee that in the United States; we will receive a similar response from a large number of Indian and Asian spectators, making the series a huge success.”
Is it not a desperate move to make the most of the T20 popularity?
“The selection of the format has nothing to do with the popularity of T20. The BCCI has strategically selected the T20 format for the United States, as it will resonate with the sports enthusiasts, given its similarity with baseball,” says the BCCI chief.
Thakur does not agree that the BCCI is guilty of overloading the players.
“We are extremely careful about the workload of the players and have planned cricket in a manner that players have time to recover. For example, just after the IPL our key players got a one-month break. After the current series (against the West Indies) they again have a 20-day break before playing against New Zealand. We have a large pool of players to rotate so that everyone gets ample opportunities and the key players get rest. I don't think there is too much cricket at this stage as far as the BCCI is concerned,” he says.
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