MLC: Cricket breaks new ground as America’s South Asian diaspora gets a taste of T20 extravaganza
It’s Faf du Plessis on strike as the famous Bollywood song Aaj ki party blares from the loudspeaker and a tantalising aroma of spices fills the air while the spectators — holding love for cricket in their hearts and biryani in their trays — roam around trying to get to their seats.
The setting has all the makings of a cricket match in India or Pakistan but if that’s your guess, you’ve got the geography completely wrong.
In the outskirts of Dallas, Texas lies a city named Grand Prairie that many have not heard of, and likewise is the town named Morrisville in North Carolina. One thing common between the two places is that they co-hosted United States’ first franchised T20 league, which came to an end on Monday with the victory of MI New York.
Cricket in the land of baseball, and that too at two lesser known venues could give sceptics the reason to doubt if the twin experiments would work. However, the heart pounding cricket encounters that displayed the determination of players to the electrifying music that resonated with the rhythm of the crowd, Grand Prairie Stadium and Church Street Park turned cricket’s American dream into reality.
“It is in our blood, us Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, cricket is in our blood,” said Swethan Srinivasan, executive committee member of Triangular Cricket League (TCL) in Morrisville.
TCL is a non-profit organization that aims to promote the game in Nirtg Carolina among both adults and youth.
It started as a recreational league for adults to play cricket but now boasts multiple youth programs with a coaching staff that has produced many players for the U-19 national team in the US.
It also contributed to getting the Church Street Park facility built, which has hosted many notable events, including the 2018 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Americas Qualifiers and Minor League Cricket.
Swethan, who is originally from Chennai and has been in the US for last sixteen years, works tirelessly as a volunteer to help cricket grow merely out of his love for the game that roots back to his time in his home country.
“Everybody is a volunteer here and nobody gets paid except for some of our employed coaches. All the management and people who do other various things are volunteers.”
The love for cricket among South Asians runs deep and transcends boundaries, encompassing national pride, communal celebration, and a sense of identity that unites millions under one captivating bat and ball symphony.
“I am supporting the team with Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan because I am very very Pakistani,” said Memhudah Rehman while holding a Pakistani flag during San Francisco Unicorns’ match against Los Angeles Knight Riders at Grand Prairie Stadium on Tuesday.
A fan holds up the Pakistani flag during Major League Cricket match. — Photo provided by author
Rehman, who is originally from Karachi, lives in Dubai and was in the US to visit her family in New York. They travelled all the way from the east coast to Texas only to watch an MLC match.
“When I walked in here I got stunned; the vibe, the environment, the lighting, the stadium itself, there is (are) actually good pitches here, in America. I never thought I would see actual cricket pitches so it is really amazing and the turnout, it is not even the weekend night. It is crazy,” she said excitedly as flocks of people moved by.
MLC is first of its kind T20 franchise marquee event in the country featuring six teams and numerous international stars including Rashid Khan, Andre Russell, Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Shadab Khan, Haris Rauf, Aaron Finch, Jason Roy, and many others.
The league is founded by Vijay Srinivasan and Sameer Mehta, co-founders of Willow TV, the largest broadcaster of cricket in North America.
Vijay Srinivasan, co-founder, Major League Cricket — Photo: MLC
“We wanted to prove that the US is capable of holding and staging an event of this stature and scale and I think we have accomplished that,” said Vijay, who grew up in Delhi and migrated to the States in 1989 for his undergraduate studies.
He has been involved in cricket in the country for over twenty years now.
“I grew up in India, playing cricket and watching cricket. It meant everything to me,” he said. “I have been very fortunate that I have been involved in cricket for a good part of my professional life through Willow and now through Major League Cricket and I’m very lucky that I have managed to make cricket part of my professional life and also my personal passion. Very few people are lucky that way.”
The businessman plans to grow the game in the US by bringing in international stars, building new stadiums and training facilities in hopes of growing domestic talent. The idea behind creating a cricket league in the US was also to bring the game closer to fans who never had the opportunity to watch their favorite stars here.
“We have only managed to bring MLC to two cities so far but the response in both those cities has been amazing, and the fans have come out in huge numbers,” Vijay said. “We are really excited to bring this game here that so many fans love and have grown up.”
Hamza Khan, a 12-year-old from Austin who plays cricket for Hill County Cricket Association, was sporting Pakistan’s cricket team jersey at Grand Prairie Stadium to show his support for Shadab Khan.
It was his first time watching a cricket match in the US. He previously traveled to England in 2019 to watch his favourite players play in Edgbaston during ICC Men’s ODI World Cup.
“I am very happy that I have a chance to actually watch a game and I do not have to go to a different country like I did for the other match,” the 7th grader said. “It is my favorite sport; I really enjoy watching it. Some of my favorite players are here today.”
It was Texas Super Kings (TSK), however, whose fans outnumbered the fans of all other franchises. The Yellow Army supported the home team not only in Dallas, but showed up in huge numbers in North Carolina as well in bright yellow jerseys and their signature buckets hats as they waved TSK flags.
But one could have wondered if it really was Texas they were supporting or the popular Chennai-based franchise from the Indian Premier League. The suspicions grew as even when David Miller smacked sixes off Adam Zampa and Sunil Narine in the opening game, the crowd was busy chanting “Dhoni, Dhoni”.
Fan holds up a banner inviting the ex-Indian skipper M. S. Dhoni to Major League Cricket. — Photo provided by author
“I am supporting TSK in the memory of MS Dhoni,” said Jisha Patel, who had come from Coppell to watch Texas play against MI New York with her family on Monday.
“TSK is a part of CSK and Dhoni is a part of CSK so, me and family are really hoping that Dhoni would come and play for TSK,” said the 40-year-old, who was watching her first MLC match. “If Dhoni comes, I would not miss a match.”
While the US is known for its diversity, there was not much of it on display during the ongoing T20 tournament. From the investors to the crowd, from team owners to the players, from food vendors to event officials, a vast majority of it was formed by the South Asian diaspora.
As this budding love affair continues, and cricket’s roots dig deeper into the American soil, one could hope for an even more vibrant community that brings people together regardless of their cultural background.