Why Test Cricket Has No Future in America

The New York Times has a feature in today’s edition about the increasing duration of Red Sox-Yankees baseball games. Apparently, the two teams play longer games than others because advertisers pay for more commercial breaks (hoping to take advantage of the bigger audiences) and because of some tactics from both sides.

But how long is too long? Here’s the paper:

On Thursday night at Fenway Park, it took baseball’s two most enduring rivals 4 hours 21 minutes to play a low-scoring nine-inning game that ended with the Yankees winning, 4-2. Two nights earlier, the Yankees won, 5-2, in a game that came in one minute short of four hours.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, those two games were the second- and third-longest nine-inning games of the season. The only one that went longer was the Yankees’ 22-9 rout of Oakland on Aug. 25, which lasted 4 hours 31 minutes. But a slugfest that takes forever to finish makes sense; a game that goes on and on with only six, or seven, runs doesn’t quite compute.

Got that? Four hours, and the country’s paper of record thinks this is an “absurd” length. This got me thinking: can cricket ever catch on in America beyond its immigrant communities? When you think of how soccer has fared — which is to say, somewhat OK after decades of investments — it doesn’t inspire much confidence in cricket’s prospects. But is time the main stumbling block for Americans, or cricket’s complexity? Even if you allow for the fact that the average T20 game lasts only about 3 hours, is that enough?

So here’s my challenge: if you had to make the game simpler, which rule would you get rid of? Which new ones would you introduce?

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7 thoughts on “Why Test Cricket Has No Future in America

  1. p says:

    Why should Test cricket take root in US? If it had to, it might have in the 18th century itself.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      I’m not sure I understand your question, p. Why should it? I’m just curious if it ever will. And yes, it did flourish in the 18th century; apparently, George Washington was seen batting frequently. It fell out of favor around the Civil War era, but it never had a huge following.

  2. I think successful American sports demand demand prime time friendly duration, results and the ability to build a mythology around individuals and teams.

    ODI and Tests deliver #3, T20 comes close to delivering #1 and #2. T20 has failed miserably, so far, on #3.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      This is the problem and main question of league-based T20 games: can they deliver on the meaning? I’m not sure yet — but maybe once the format has a longer history, the myths will arrive.

  3. phaty says:

    I like your article but your questions are absurd. Why should you change something just to make it attractive to a country doesn’t want it in the first place?

    • duckingbeamers says:

      You assume that cricket hasn’t adapted in different countries, but obviously, it has. And consider how people play pick-up games — LBWs are routinely discarded as a rule, for example. I was just asking a basic question: how do you spread a sport that you like? How do you get to new markets? Do you change the marketing, or the game itself? And if you choose the latter, is it still the same game?

  4. Russ says:

    DB, this is a much more involved question than a blog comment can do justice to. Mainstream American sport is well established, and it is close to impossible to over-throw an established sporting culture, because those grow at certain points in a nation’s economic and social development.

    That said, the US population/economy is 100 times bigger than New Zealand’s, and Canada’s 10 times as big. If the threshold for success is for the US to host a competent cricket team, then the actual take-up of the sport doesn’t need to be very big; particularly in a globally connected world where a lack of mainstream coverage is not a barrier to following the game.

    I don’t think total hours of play is a terribly useful thing to talk about. The US has long been the host for the biggest golf tour – played over 4 days – and major tennis tournaments – played all day for a week or more. Context is what matters, and pacing. The Boston-NY games are attritional: a large number of balls thrown for relatively little action. A T20 is paced the same (around 35-40s per ball), with roughly the same levels of excitement (in terms if hits/runs:boundaries/wickets) as an average, shorter baseball game. Test cricket might struggle to find a large audience, but that is not unusual in most of the world these days: test cricket is a game for the players, primarily.

    As for changes. Having sat at a T20 and tried to explain it to a few cricket novices, the sport is very simple. Bowl ball, hit ball, run. Anyone who says otherwise, or claims it is “too complex” is being elitist. The most difficult to explain elements, lbw aside, are the bits that supposedly add excitement: free hits, fielding restrictions and bowling restrictions. Most everything else is just terminology or specific tactics, and all sports have those.

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