What's America Got To Do With Cricket?

Team USA, it seems, were destined to beat Pakistan in the ongoing T20 World Cup. The shock of this upset aside, the real disappointment in this tournament thus far has been the poor quality of pitches which threatens to sour the entire competition

What's America Got To Do With Cricket?

This article was originally supposed to be only about unsuitable pitches in the West Indies and the USA, particularly Big Apple's deadly track, but now, it must include a horror story about the Pakistan cricket team as well.

It is my belief that the Pakistan team was not destined to do well in this year's World Cup vis-à-vis the power struggles, the poor captaincy scenario, an inadequate squad unsuitable for the conditions, and most importantly, once  Babar Azam orchestrated the scenario to snatch the leadership role back from under the wings of his friend Shaheen Shah Afridi in an unsavoury manner, the team spirit had fallen to its lowest ebb, whereby I had predicted on my podcast a few days ago that I don't see Pakistan qualifying for the Super-Eight stage, and I saw imminent danger from the Americans.

I believe this prediction makes me the Nostradamus of cricket. 

Coming back to the wickets in the USA and the West Indies, they have been too bowler-friendly. Yes, it is still early days, but the indications so far have not been great. 

There is no doubt in my mind that I love it when the World Cup is played in England. I am a tad biased, but there are plenty of excellent reasons for my bias. Firstly, the conditions in England are perhaps the best for playing cricket—barring the rain!  

The pitches in England offer equal opportunities for both batters and bowlers, while the grounds are simply beautiful. Even the fans who turn up to watch matches bring a unique flavour; the Barmy Army's songs warm your heart and don't dampen your spirit, even if the weather gets a wee bit chilly and wet.
However, I need to understand that not every International Cricket Council (ICC) event can be played in England, even though it is the place where the sport originated. I can't be like a spoilt child who wants her way no matter what.

The tracks in America and a couple in the West Indies, aren't suited to the T20 format. They are sluggish and lack the flavour and excitement generally associated with the T20 World Cup format

So if all ICC events cannot always be played in England, nor can they always be played in India—the new favourite of the cricketing gods and a location with so much culture and flavour to offer besides cricket—the ICC has to hold its events in different parts of the world. The council has been looking to spread the sport across the globe, much like football's global body, FIFA. In fact, this is the first time that the ICC has gone to America in its quest to make the world's second most-watched sport truly global. The West Indies have been a usual suspect; most recently, the Caribbean hosted the T20 World Cup in 2010. 

But let's face it: The World Cup being held in the West Indies and North America this year might be the worst compared to every other nation where a major cricketing tournament has been held, barring Hong Kong, where the sixes are held, although I don't consider that to be serious cricket and is rather farcical.

Somehow, it's been a few days into the tournament, and this World Cup doesn't seem like a big deal. The reason for that is not the small-ish, cross-purpose grounds or the inflated ticket prices; rather, it is the quality of the pitches, the outfields, the hotels and facilities, and now Pakistan losing to the USA, which all makes it seem like a horror movie that will haunt us forever.

All my life, movies such as Candy Man and The Omen have haunted me, but now Pakistan's horror show against the lads from America precedes all childhood traumas. 

Coming back to the tracks in America and a couple in the West Indies, they really aren't suited to the T20 format. They are sluggish and lack the flavour and excitement generally associated with the T20 World Cup format.
The next logical step would be to explore just what makes the perfect conditions for a T20 Match?
First of all, we need to understand that wickets where totals of 230 runs are made and then chased down with consummate ease do not make for great cricket. There is nothing for the poor bowlers on such tracks, and that's not fair; it's lopsided.  

In such a scenario, you might as well play with 11 batters, and I am sure half of them would be able to turn their arm over. The bowlers can chill in their hotel rooms and play video games.

In my opinion, the perfect pitch for a T20 is the one where 160-175 runs are on offer, and a sufficient number of sixes and fours can be blazed while bowlers can have a fair chance of getting the batter out. Such a track, I believe, is the best for the players, the spectators and everyone else involved; it makes for a gruelling yet exciting game of cricket.
A 22-yard pitch where around eight to nine runs can be scored per over is the best for a 20-overs-a-side match; the skills of the batsmen and the bowlers are in full view. The players need to be close to perfection on such tracks, keeping everyone on the edge of their seats, like the Pakistan v USA game. The only thing about that match was that when watching, I couldn't make out which was the associate team. 

As predicted by yours truly many times on different platforms, including this esteemed publication, under the disabled, rather selfish leadership of Babar Azam, we never even had the inkling of a chance to do well in this World Cup, let alone win against rookie or experienced sides. 

The 2024 edition of the T20 World Cup is being co-hosted by the USA, who have just entered the cricketing world. One initially wondered why? 

The Americans don't really know the game, the pitches, or anything connected to the traditional sport of cricket. If you looked up their team until a few months ago, you would mostly find immigrants from the subcontinent making up the ranks. However, the Americans have thoroughly vindicated themselves by playing professional cricket and fast earned a reputation for being giant killers by defeating the far under par and much over-rated Pakistan team. 

Let's see what the likes of India, Australia and England can do on these tracks. Perhaps, during the Super Eight stage, when the stakes are higher, it would be a better time to reassess the 22 yards

Soon, the Super-Eight stage will be upon us. While such pitches may be fine on a regular day, they do not work when top-ranked teams come to play in a major tournament. One just hopes that the better-quality teams in the tournament may deliver higher totals and better run chases than what we have witnessed in the first week of the tournament.

Let's see what the likes of India, Australia and England can do on these tracks. Perhaps, during the Super Eight stage, when the stakes are higher, it would be a better time to reassess the 22 yards known as the pitch - drop-in or otherwise.
We've seen that the tracks in the West Indies are also on the sluggish side, barring maybe the one in Barbados. Let's hope the tracks join the party soon to enhance the excitement.

The early days of this World Cup have been ominous as far as the conditions of the outfields and the overall cricketing experience are concerned. I remember not enjoying the 2007 one-day World Cup in the West Indies, the one where Bob Woolmer passed away. The Pakistan team wasn't in great hands then, nor is it now. As a  Pakistani, I am not too excited about our team, and with good reason, as previously described. But these damp squib tracks and conditions are not exciting for any cricket fan or pundit, irrespective of the teams playing.

Let's hope an extraordinary game of cricket between India and Pakistan on June 9 can set this tournament alight. Up until now, it has been dark and dingy.

I am an unabashed traditionalist, so watching America—which created baseball to counter cricket—become a part of our traditional sport does not sit well with me either. Although their team has been impressive but that's not the point as a cricket fan and pundit I never wanted America to breach the sanctity of our sacred sport.

Two young ladies of Arab descent—my God daughters—who were watching the Pakistan vs USA match in my living room, summed up my sentiments beautifully when they simultaneously asked, "What's America got to do with cricket, auntie?"

"I wonder," I replied!

The author is a senior cricket analyst and is Asia's first woman cricket commentator.