In February 2011, when the ODI World Cup was on, a friend who heads the South Asian operations of a Dutch tech company had some visitors from the Netherlands at his office. Coincidently the Dutch cricket team was playing England at Nagpur on that day. My friend put on the TV thinking his visitors would like to catch the game. But they did not even glance at the TV. Curious, he asked them weren’t they interested. Their answer stumped him. “All the guys in Netherlands who are interested in cricket are on the ground playing!”

Cricket has come a long way since then. Aided by the spectator friendly T20 format it is rapidly gaining ground in new geographies. The sport’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC) is wielding the willow expertly to market the sport globally and spread its reach beyond the Commonwealth nations. ICC has over 100 members and it has been aggressively creating digital platforms, pushing women’s cricket hard and is doing all it can to win the US market. The just concluded T20 World Cup — hosted jointly by the US and the West Indies — is just a precursor. Cricket’s entry in the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028 will be a bigger shot in the arm for the global spread of the game.

Winning new followers

It is true that at the T20 World Cup matches in the US, mostly immigrant communities of South Asian descent showed up at the stadia. But the home team’s superb performance, defeating a much-fancied Pakistan team, would have spiked the interest of the basketball, baseball and soccer loving Americans. Also, this T20 World Cup would have earned new followers for cricket in two other debutant countries — Uganda and Canada. Seeing images of massive crowds erupting on the streets of Kabul, Khost and Kandahar to celebrate the Afghanistan team’s entry into the semis, surely the game will grow there too.

Cricket is creating newer constituencies for itself through the crisp T20 format, which is finding stickiness with younger audiences world over. Last year saw the launch of US’ own version of a T20 league in the form of Major League Cricket. Of the six teams in that league, four have an IPL connection and one of them has Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella as a co-owner. Pat Cummins, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Rachin Ravindra, David Miller, Anrich Nortje are some of the big names who will show up in the league this year, and that is bound to attract more eye-balls. The IPL owners know a thing or two about building up communities of fans.

Focus on diversity

ICC’s big push to promote women’s cricket is another factor in the growth of the game. Currently there are ten T20 women’s cricket leagues being played across the world. Who would have imagined that Surya Kumar Yadav’s spectacular catch in the T20 finals would be compared to that of Harleen Deol’s over social media with the verdict being that Harleen’s catch was at par if not better. This shows that women’s cricket is making big strides and like that catch, it is in safe hands.

Brand researcher Marin Lindstrom says, “Go where the people are, numbers (money in this case) will follow”. Today all major cricket leagues have big money chasing them. Investment bank Houlihan Lokey recently valued the IPL at a whopping $16.4 billion. IPL figures in the top five sport leagues of the world and that’s commendable for a league that has just 10 teams. NBA has 32 teams and EPL has 20. IPL is only 17 years old whereas NBA started in 1946 and EPL in its current form came into being in 1992 though its roots go as far back as 1888. There is a mega auction in 2025 for IPL. Imagine players from Oman, the US, Papua New Guinea, Uganda, Namibia and Scotland making the cut along with players from Nepal, the Netherlands and Ireland. That will not just take the interest in the league a few notches up, it will also bring in more viewers across the globe.

Ever since ICC granted ‘international’ status for T20 matches to all its Associate Members as a part of its wider strategic aim to globalise the game, the number of T20 Internationals being played has gone up exponentially. There were 386 T20 Internationals played by women and 453 T20 Internationals played by men in 2023. As many as 89 countries are currently ranked on the basis of their performance in T20 men’s cricket and 74 countries are ranked in T20 women’s cricket and this indicates the global spread of the game. Yes, it may not be close to the 211 countries being ranked by FIFA but ICC seems to be moving in the right direction and with good speed. Will the incremental following of the sport be a boon or a headache for media planners? In this case, time will play the third umpire!

(Giraj Sharma is Founder Director of Behind the Moon brand consultants and runs ReverseFlick, a platform where sports stars chat about their experiences)