Why Cricket Struggles to Grow in Popularity
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Cricket is the second-most popular sport in the world, with an estimated fanbase of over two and a half billion people. It has some of the most passionate fans, ones who travel all around the world to support their favorite players. However, the sport isn’t popular in North America or mainland Europe and is struggling to expand its reach. This difficulty is in part due to the complexity behind the sport as well as an exclusive mentality that has existed within the sport since its inception.
In order to fully understand why cricket struggles to spread, it is important to have a basic understanding of the rules of the sport. The game is played in two halves; two teams (with a roster of 11 players each) bat for one half and bowl for the other. The goal of the batsman, similar to the batter in baseball, is to protect the wicket, which consists of three stumps behind the batsman, and to simultaneously score as many runs as possible. The goal of the bowler, similar to the pitcher in baseball, is to score a wicket, which refers to striking out a batsman. The fielders are spread across the entire field, and their goal is to try to catch the ball before it lands on the ground, which is another way to take a wicket. There are many different ways to take a wicket, and some of these rules can be very complicated for beginners.
The complexity of the rules makes cricket a hard sport to understand by simply watching it. Often, one needs a friend or family member to explain it, or they need to read the rulebook themselves. Learning these rules can be somewhat discouraging to people new to the sport, and it creates an unfortunate barrier that curtails cricket’s growth. I experienced this firsthand when it took me weeks to gain a good understanding of how the game works. In fact, even though I have been a fan of the sport for over a year, I still do not fully comprehend all of the rules.
Additionally, cricket matches are notoriously long. The shortest of three formats of the sport, Twenty-20, lasts four hours long. The second shortest, One Day International, lasts eight hours, and the longest version, Test, is played across three to five days with at least six hours of cricket per day. In comparison, the average basketball game lasts about 150 minutes. It is much easier to watch a sport like basketball, whose games last a reasonable amount of time and follow a schedule that rarely changes, than cricket, in which games are frequently rescheduled and last for long periods of time. Amateurs of the sport will often play with fewer batsmen allowed and fewer overs, which are sets of six consecutive bowls, in order to try to make it more schedule-friendly. Another alternative is to play the overs out over the course of a few days as cricket is a sport that can be paused and played at a later time. Still, the sport isn’t very viewer-friendly because the games take place over such a large timespan.
Moreover, cricket is often a very exclusive sport, and this exclusivity stems from the fact that it was a sport for the elite. Both soccer and cricket were invented in England. Soccer was the sport of the common people, whereas primarily the elite played cricket. As the English empire expanded, many of the natives in their colonies picked up soccer because it requires little equipment to play and can be played nearly anywhere. Cricket, therefore, did not spread as easily as soccer in most of the English colonies. However, cricket was taught in schools in India as a way of imposing British culture. It became a source of pride for Indians, who showed that they could compete with their English rulers and beat them at their own sport. That reason is why cricket is very popular across the Indian subcontinent: it was their way of standing up to a bully. This perspective eventually transformed cricket from a sport of the elite to a sport of people from all social classes.
Though the sport has expanded to more social classes, the elitist and exclusive mentality present in cricket at its inception still exists to this day. The International Cricket Council (ICC), which oversees all official cricket matches, hurts the popularity of the sport by restricting member countries from being able to play certain formats or being able to play in certain tournaments. Only 10 countries play in the ICC Cricket World Cup, and only 12 are allowed to play Test. Excluding the vast majority of the world’s countries slows the growth of the sport, but the teams already playing cricket support this exclusive model because of the money distribution in cricket. The ICC takes all the TV revenue from broadcasting the games and splits it among the teams based on how they place in tournaments. The teams already part of the ICC prefer to only let countries play if their addition can produce more profit. Unfortunately, this system curbs the growth of the sport in countries outside of the member countries in the ICC.
Despite many hurdles, cricket is gaining some traction in the United States. Immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean, another region where cricket is very popular, are bringing their cricket tradition with them. It is very slowly beginning to diffuse into American culture. I’ve seen this diffusion while passing by local parks where teams are playing cricket or when I see cricket on TV in local restaurants. Players are starting leagues across the country, including a PSAL cricket league for high schoolers in New York. Cricket has the incredible ability of bringing people together, and the growth of cricket will only benefit the world. The sport has a promising future, but unless the ICC changes its system to make cricket more inclusive to other countries, it may never grow to its full potential.