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I just returned from the recently concluded Global T20 Cricket tournament being held at Brampton, Ontario. Brampton is the most Indian immigrant dominated area in the whole of Canada. While there were some glitches during the tournament, the second edition was significantly better than the first. It certainly has made a mark for itself using iconic players like Yuvraj Singh and Chris Gayle. The Final game was very exciting and ended in a Super over. Andre Russel almost took the game away for Vancouver Knights.
Cricket as a sport has been growing over the years. It got a shot in the arm from the introduction of Twenty overs cricket. It has made the sport faster, bringing it within the more appetising 3-hour show. The skill aspect of the game perhaps has deteriorated, one sees more slog hits. However, bowlers have arguably become sharper and fitness levels have gone up.
The sport is now closer to Baseball. But during my travel across Canada, I did not think it is competing with Baseball at the grassroots in any way.
The annual cricket calendar is getting filled up with new leagues ushering every now and then. Some notable additions have been; Carribean Premier League, Global T20 League, Pakistan Super League, Bangladesh Premier League and European Cricket League. It is evident that most of the cricket globally has a strong influence from the Indian sub-continent.
To popularise any sport, I thought it was important to engage the local crowd. During my trip to the UK, which was also when the World Cup was on, I got a chance of experiencing the cricket fever (or the lack of it) first hand. English cricket had been on a decline and World Cup has brought back public interest. ECB has a dedicated team that creates strategies to bring more youngsters to the cricket stadiums. They tie up with Fan Clubs like Bharat Army and Barmy Army to do that. The ECB is going to pump in more money to promote cricket at the grassroots next cricket season.
If a nation has to popularise a sport from ground up, this is the right approach. BCCI is complacent in this regard. This is perhaps because they have yet to face the problem of low participation in India.
All cricket related businesses should pay their homage to Virat Kohli; for when the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag took retirement; he immediately took charge as the Ambassador for the sport. Every sport needs an Idol at the top. Someone the kids can aspire to be. A name that dads can give to their issues - Junior Kohli.There are now active cricket boards in Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Germany to name a few.
While we look at other sports, we would be closely watching development of Cricket in these new markets and be a relevant participant in the growth of the sport in the times to come.