Inside the American T20 revolution

Jo bhi karna hain bada karna hain! (Aim for the stars, always!) We want to build something that will outlive our lifetimes’ quipped MLC (Major League Cricket) co-founder Sameer Mehta, the co-founder of American Cricket Enterprise in 2019 after winning the rights to own and operate a T20 league in USA. It is understood that the bid was unanimously approved by all the sitting directors at USA Cricket at the time over bids from industry incumbents including some of the IPL franchises.

What was the catch? ACE inked the deal based on their intent to build cricketing infrastructure in the country, which was virtually non-existent in the country. The erstwhile USACA had zero turf wickets under their ambit in their half a century long existence. The ACE proposal further promised to leverage that infrastructure to build cricketing ecosystems and pathways.

Much like their peers at GT20 (Canada) or the now-defunct Euro T20, ACE had a chance to launch a flaky T20 league, ensuring a revenue stream right from the onset. But they went down a different route, taking a bottom-to-top approach, the group made heavy investments in setting up academies and turf wicket grounds across the country. The launch of MLC was preceded by the inception of the Minor League (MiLC), a 26-team pathway franchise tournament that now underpins the MLC. ACE launched the MLC, after 2 successful MiLC seasons had laid the initial groundwork and 4 years after clinching the winning bid.

While the world watches American cricket basking in the glory of a historic series win over Bangladesh, it is oblivious to the T20 revolution that has been brewing in America since the advent of ACE. The MiLC with over 150 games a year and the long weekend pop-up T20 tournaments like the Houston Open have completely changed the landscape of American cricket.

Someone like Andries Gous, one of the many fresh faces in the USA lineup, who also enjoys stints at Abu Dhabi T10 and the ILT20 plays around 80 T20 games in a calendar year in USA which is close to a 10-fold increase from what he played in South Africa before moving to the US in 2021.

“My power game has definitely improved since coming to America, because we play so much T20 cricket. I think I sort of figured the way I want to play T20 cricket in these last three years. I think I’m 100% a better cricketer than I was in 2021 when I left South Africa” said Gous after his whirlwind knock of 95 in 50 deliveries at the ILT20 in January.

Similarly left arm spinning all-rounder Harmeet Singh, who re-invented the wheel with a more round-arm action is now the most potent left-arm spinner in the country. He shunned away his fluidly orthodox action, one that was compared to Bishan Bedi because of the amount of T20 cricket he plays in America. It is also in America where Hamreet rediscovered his mojo with the bat. Playing T20 cricket day in and out, he transformed himself from a handy lower-order bat to a serious match-winner at the death, evident with his breathtaking cameo of 33 from 13 in the first T20I against Bangladesh.

The import of these professionals to spike the quality of cricket in America has raised the bar for the standard of cricket prevalent in America today. The MLC, with its domestic purse of $1.9m to go with MiLC purses of around $400,000 and about another $400,000 of player payments for the long weekend pop-up tournaments in all, the ecosystem now sustains about 35 professional cricketers making close to $60,000 per annum on an average.

The country now has about 20 turf wicket grounds scattered around the country, the construction of which has been either directly undertaken by ACE or has come up because of a tremendous snowball effect. The emergence of MLC has spiked investment from private groups and benefactors alike and has seen cricketing infrastructure in terms of turf grounds, indoor facilities, and ad-hoc cash tournaments grow by leaps and bounds. An average MiLC team owner burns close to $120,000 in cash every season while ACE has spent around $80m of their own for venue construction, high-performance camps, logistics and player salaries.

The recent on-field success of the American team has resultantly not been a flash in the pan, but instead, the sweet fruits of thoughtful labour put into the brittle ecosystem of American cricket which had endured many false dawns in the past.

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