Thursday, June 4, 2009

A world competition similar to the WBC

My comments promoting the World Baseball Classic are well-known on this blog. That is why I was intrigued by this story in the New York Times about the upcoming Twenty20 World Cup, the world championship of a version of cricket.

Full disclosure: I know almost nothing about cricket, except that it is a cousin of baseball. But I have been mildly curious about it since my wife returned from India last year. Among her presents for me was a Mumbai Indians polo shirt. The Indians are one of the teams in the Indian Premier League, a professional cricket league that plays the Twenty20 version of the game.

It is controversial, because it does not last days and days like traditional cricket. Games last about three hours and fit better on television. Traditionalists, of course, don't like it.

Which brings me to the Twenty20 World Cup. The NYT story had a tone that reminded me a lot of attitude surrounding the WBC. Baseball purists complained about the mandatory pitch-counts, the mercy rule and other modifications made so the tournament could be staged in March. Yet Major League Baseball and others looking to grow the national pastime pushed for the world tournament to gain more exposure, even though it wasn't "pure" baseball.

I wonder if the same "I'm not sure this is a good idea" attitude surrounds these matches. The story indicated while Twenty20 cricket is growing in popularity, test nations, those that play the highest level of cricket, are not playing lots of these new streamlined matches. The story suggested that could affect the play in the World Cup.

It sounds somewhat like concerns around the U.S. team heading into the WBC. Not only did we not have the best players available to us, but we also were just beginning spring training. Our guys were not in game-playing shape and our quality of play was in serious question. Japan and Cuba on the other hand had more prepared players physically.

Ultimately, the WBC was a success, even though the U.S. did not win it. Just advancing to the final four was an achievement. And even though Japan has won both WBC events, I think the game grows when someone other than the U.S. is the best at our favorite sports. Americans like being the best and some competition for the crown makes us better.

The Twenty20 World Cup has the potential to do the same for cricket. Three of the participants are not test nations, which sounds to me like they could be potential expansion markets.

Would a Netherlands upset of India be as big a cricket upset as the Netherlands upsetting the Dominican Republic was a baseball upset? I don't know. But it certainly would draw some attention outside traditional cricket markets.