Pakistan batsman Fakhar Zaman in action, watched by England captain Jos Buttle
File photo: Pakistan batsman Fakhar Zaman in action, watched by England captain Jos Buttler. Pakistan and England are among the fancied teams in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup cricket tournament, beginning on June 1. Image Credit: X@ICC

The Twenty20 World Cup cricket is back. The ninth edition starts on June 1 in the West Indies and the USA, and the event features a record 20 teams, who will play 55 games. The USA play Canada in the inaugural game in Dallas Texas.

The spotlight is on the India-Pakistan match in New York on June 9, and that puts into shade the clash between Ashes rivals England and Australia in Barbados on June 8. The June 29 final will be played at Bridgetown, Barbados.

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Cricket goes beyond the boundary

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

International cricket is coming to America. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup arrives at a time when cricket’s popularity has soared worldwide. The Major League Cricket, launched last year, aims to market the game to a US audience fed on a diet of American football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey.

Selling cricket to Americans isn’t easy. In the US, the game is played only by people with links to the subcontinent. Yet the World Cup could help the game grow in the Americas, and it will be in keeping with the plans of the International Cricket Conference, the cricket’s apex body, to spread the game beyond the traditional powerhouses.

The World Cup, co-hosted by the US and the West Indies, will be the biggest, with a record 20 countries participating. As the biennial event begins on June 1 in Dallas, Texas, cricket will have returned to one of its earliest moorings — the United States.

India T20 World Cup
Indian players train ahead of their ICC T20 World Cup opening match against Ireland (June 5), in New York on June 29, 2024. The tournament begins on June 1 with the USA facing Canada in Dallas, Texas. Image Credit: ANI

How cricket came to America

The first reference to cricket, believed to have been invented during Saxon or Norman times in southeast England, was in 1611, according to the ICC website. While the sport grew in England, it also spread to British colonies and was brought to the US in the early 1700s by colonial sailors.

Although cricket initially spread across the country, its popularity waned due to the failure to open clubs to the working class. Its demise was accelerated by the rise of baseball in the 1800s. “The sport of cricket had a popularity (then) that it does not enjoy now by any means. Now, the country possesses a ball game that is quickly played and yields exciting and lively contests,” a report in the New York Times in 1868 said.

With time, cricket changed. When it returns to America for the World Cup, the game is no longer the dull, slow contest played by men in white flannels over several days with a red ball. In the popular version, cricketers in coloured uniforms belt white balls in four-hour 20-over competitions.

Brandon King
West Indian batsman Brandon King in action in the first T20 International against South Africa in Kingston, Jamaica, on May 23, 2024. Co-hosts West Indies will want to erase the bitter memories of the last World Cup with an improved show at home.

Unlike the US, co-hosts West Indies have a long tradition of producing high-calibre cricketers. With breathtaking strokeplay, fiery fast bowling and electric fielding, cricketers from the palm-fringed, sun-drenched islands in the Caribbean gave cricket the Calyso flavour. It was cricket’s favourite flavour in the eighties and early nineties when Clive Lloyd’s Invincibles lorded over cricket.

After the golden era, West Indian cricket slumped, although Darren Sammy inspired them to T20 world titles in 2012 and 2016. Caribbean cricket continued to be in a freefall as they failed to qualify for the 2022 T20 World Cup and the 2023 ODI World Cup. They will want to put that nightmare behind them.

Like the West Indies, most cricket-playing countries were British colonies. It came to Canada in the late 1700s and spread swiftly. “Cricket had been played from coast to coast to coast by the 1890’s, some 25 years after it had been declared the national sport,” an ESPN Cricinfo report said

West Indies
A view of the Worrell, Weekes and Walcott stand ahead of ICC men's T20 World Cup at Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados, on May 24, 2024. West Indies play Papua New Guinea on June 1, 2024. Image Credit: AFP
The ninthT20 World Cup will feature a record 20 teams. Hosts West Indies and USA gained automatic qualification. Eight best-placed teams from the 2022 edition — England, Pakistan, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Australia and the Netherlands — get a direct entry. So also Afghanistan and Bangladesh by virtue of their place in the men’s T20 International rankings.
Canada topped the Americas qualifier, while Ireland and Scotland came through the European qualifier. Nepal and Oman secured their slot from the Asia qualifier, Namibia and Uganda qualified from Africa, and Papua New Guinea won the East Asia-Pacific qualifier.

Canada and the USA played the first international match in history in September 1844 in New York, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. That was long before the first cricket Test between England and Australia in 1892. The Canadian Cricket Association, now Cricket Canada, formed in 1892, is still the governing cricket body.

Inclement weather was a stumbling block to popularity. Yet Canada have been regulars on the ICC circuit, playing in several World Cups starting with the 1975 Prudential World Cup (50 overs). Oddly, this is their first appearance at a T20 World Cup.

The Netherlands, a standout among Associate members, have qualified automatically for the tournament. With five T20 World Cup appearances since 2009, the Dutch finished in the top eight in 2022 and were the only Associate at the 2023 ODI World Cup. They have become the bogey team for South Africa, sending them out of the 2022 T20 World Cup and beating them again at the 2023 ODI World Cup.

ICC Trophy Box

Namibia, a former South African protectorate, has a cricket history from the early 1900s. An ICC member since 1992, the desert nation have appeared in the 2021 and 2022 T20 World Cups.

Nepal qualified for the T20 World Cup for the first time in a decade, while Papua New Guinea make their second appearance. Oman, who played their first T20 International in 2015, will make their third appearance in the tournament.

■ 2007 — India
■ 2009 — Pakistan
■ 2010 — England
■ 2012 — West Indies
■ 2014 — Sri Lanka
■ 2016 — West Indies
■ 2021 — Australia
■ 2022 — England

Uganda is home to a substantial South Asian population, which brought cricket to the African country. Although the diaspora has sustained the sport, school cricket has given rise to a generation of home-grown talent. This is their first appearance at the World Cup.

For the Associate nations — the US, Namibia, Scotland, Oman, Papua New Guinea, Uganda, Nepal and the Netherlands — the World Cup is a chance to test their mettle against the best. Namibia, Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands are regulars in ICC tournaments, which points to their rising stature. Cricket remains an amateur sport in these countries. A proper domestic structure and adequate international exposure can level the playing field. There’s no better exposure than the World Cup, where the big boys play.

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Eight players to watch

A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor

Virat Kohli (117 matches, 4,037 runs)

Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Virat Kohli plays a shot
Image Credit: AFP

The former captain will remain the backbone of Indian batting in the Twenty20 format. The 35-year-old’s batting played a pivotal role in India’s entry to the 2022 semifinals in Australia. Following criticism over his slow strike rate, Kohli reinvented his game during this Indian Premier League, scoring 741 runs at a strike rate of 154.69. That’s good news for India.

Shaheen Shah Afridi (65 matches, 91 wickets)

Shaheen Shah Afridi
Image Credit: AFP

The Pakistan pacer is back to full fitness after recovering from a severe injury. The 24-year-old, with his pace and movement in the air and off the pitch, can take early wickets. He spearheads arguably the best pace bowling attack in the World Cup. His recent performances against England have lifted him three places to 12th in the T20 rankings for bowlers.

Rashid Khan (85 matches, 138 wickets)

Rashid Khan
Image Credit: ANI

The Afghan T20 specialist has not been at his best, but the leg-spinner is a feared bowler in white-ball cricket. The 25-year-old has been in the international franchise circuit for quite some time and commands great respect from the batters due to his accuracy and variations. His return from injury is a big boost for Afghanistan.

Travis Head (26 matches, 656 runs)

Travis Head
Image Credit: AFP

The Australian left-hander has become a fearsome batter after his match-winning 137 against India in the 2023 ODI World Cup final. The 30-year-old’s attacking batting was critical in Sunrisers Hyderabad’s run to the IPL final, finishing fourth in the scorers list with 567 runs. Head’s IPL strike rate of 191.5 will give the confidence to launch the Australian innings with David Warner.

Mustafizur Rahman (96 matches, 120 wickets)

Mustafizur Rahman
Image Credit: AFP

The Bangladesh left-arm pacer has become a potent force under the tutelage of former Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni while turning out for the Chennai Super Kings. During his IPL stint, the 28-year-old has regained his rhythm and confidence, claiming 14 wickets in 9 matches. Mustafizur can keep the batters guessing with his slow cutters and surprise them with his pace and bounce.

Phil Salt (22 matches, 652 runs)

Copy of 958453-01-02-1713104207605
Image Credit: AFP

The England opener is relatively new in international cricket, but his white-ball specialist’s strokeplay in the powerplay has garnered plenty of attention. The 27-year-old from Sussex formed a formidable partnership with Sunil Narine, giving the Kolkata Knight Riders rousing starts in the league games before they won the IPL title. Salt’s 435 runs at a strike rate of 182 is evidence of his fearless hitting. England will rely on him for fast starts as they defend the T20 World Cup.

Trent Boult (57 matches, 74 wickets)

Trent Boult
Image Credit: Reuters

The wily New Zealand left-arm pacer keeps the runs in check in the powerplay overs and gets early wickets. The 34-year-old hasn’t had a great IPL season, but the low-bounce wickets in the Caribbean may work to his advantage.

Nicholas Pooran (88 matches, 1,848 runs)

Nicholas Pooran
Image Credit: AFP

The West Indian left-hander’s batting talent was never in doubt, but he tends to be careless. Pooran’s striking abilities can turn around a match in a few balls, but consistency was never his strong point. The 28-year-old Trinidadian has scored 499 runs at a strike rate of 178.21 in the IPL season 17, making him the player to watch.

T20 World Cup fixtures