The cat was probably out of the bag when two Australian state cricket organizations partnered up with the much-anticipated new professional T20 league launching in the U.S.
Amid the first ever draft on Sunday night in Houston ahead of the July tournament, there was much interest over the first six marquee overseas signings for Major League Cricket which has significant financial investment behind it.
Given New South Wales and Victoria’s stake into the six-team MLC, it was no surprise to see a trio of high-profile Australian players unveiled as recruits. Recently retired Australia white-ball skipper Aaron Finch and powerful allrounder Marcus Stoinis will line up for San Francisco Unicorns.
Both players have a connection with Cricket Victoria, who have partnered up with the Unicorns franchise. Finch, who led Australia to a drought-breaking T20 World Cup title in 2021, will take the reins as skipper.
T20 World Cup 2021 hero Mitchell Marsh, fresh off a dazzling ODI knock in Australia’s thrashing of India earlier in the day, will play for Seattle Orcas who also secured the services of South African wicket-keeper/batter Quentin de Kock.
Other big-name signings were South African speedster Anrich Nortje and Sri Lankan spinning all-rounder Wanindu Hasaranga. These top players are expected to earn a similar type of remuneration per game to cashed-up start-up T20 leagues in South Africa and the UAE
“Our goal is to bring the best players to the USA. We need to be competitive with the benchmark outside of the Indian Premier League,” MLC co-founder Vijay Srinivasan told me late last year.
MLC has secured more than $40 million in funding and over $100 million in “handshakes” with private investors including tech giants Microsoft
There will be more overseas players revealed before the 18-day tournament, consisting of 19 matches, starts on July 13. The entirety of the competition with be played at the Grand Prairie Stadium in Dallas, which has been earmarked as the hub for cricket in the U.S.
The tournament will spread to other cities in the future once infrastructure is finalized in a tournament hoped to light a fuse in a country long considered the sleeping giant for a bat and ball sport with a strong British footprint.
The International Cricket Council has for some time deemed the world’s biggest sports market as cricket’s number one growth country.
But there have been unsuccessful attempts to launch a pro cricket league in the U.S, which continues to have administrative problems among deep-seated divisions.
While there are still question marks over the governing of cricket in the U.S, which according to sources were part of discussions during ongoing ICC meetings in Dubai, MLC is hoped to capture the imagination of a fickle public during a somewhat slower time of the American sports calendar.
Several global stars are hoped to give the tournament heft and credibility amongst cricket and American sports fans alike. Perhaps inevitably, the MLC is top heavy with expats who have a link to the U.S.
Only 15 of the 54 players chosen in the draft classified as local residents have represented the U.S. at junior or senior level. There are cynics, even within the American cricket ecosystem, who are dubious over whether the MLC will actually have any impact at the grassroots.
Like any sport, for cricket to succeed in this coveted market there will eventually need to be homegrown heroes for locals to latch on to.
Until then, however, a slew of talented and – importantly – entertaining cricketers will serve as pioneers for a league daring to ‘dream big’.