Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar are best buds who think they’re on to a winner.
They’ve gone into business together and taken their product – the Cricket All Stars T20 – out on the road with clear eyes and full hearts, hoping to capture the imagination of American audiences. First stop the Big Apple, then off to Houston before finishing up on the West Coast, in Los Angeles, no less.
In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, there are two characters known as the Duke and the King: two unscrupulous con men, each operating under an equally ridiculous royal sobriquet. Quickly realising they’re as morally bankrupt as each other, they team up to carry out a range of audacious swindles as they wind their way down the Mississippi River.
Now Warney and Tendulkar aren’t as morally bankrupt as the Duke and the King, I’m sure. But are they pulling somewhat of a heist here, too, in that they’re traveling around America, pocketing cash and leaving thousands of gullible townfolk shaking their fists as they flee the scene?
So many things have been brought to America with the expectation that it’ll take off. Let’s never forget the 1987 State of Origin venture, when 12,000 Americans turned out at Long Beach’s Veterans Memorial Stadium to watch NSW claw back some pride after a 2-1 series loss.
Of course, rugby league never made it in America. What was billed as rugby league’s attempt to establish a foothold in the North American market is now remembered as a hilarious footnote in the code’s already laughable history of failed expansion attempts.
Americans aren’t going to suddenly embrace a foreign product; it’s just not their go (unless that product is a Hemsworth brother, or some other dreamboat Australian flavour of the month). However, they are occasionally fond of appropriating a foreign product for their own countrymen.
Ricky Gervais’ TV show The Office was brilliant, fucking brilliant, but it wasn’t considered marketable enough for American network executives, who commissioned their own version starring Steve Carell, a less dark version of Gervais’ central character, David Brent. Some people say the American version was ‘better’ than the British one, but I have absolutely no idea how you can come to that conclusion. They’ve done this several times to various foreign TV shows, each time diluting the original, in a desperate bid to reach peak eyeballs.
But they aren’t about to do this to sport, you wouldn’t think. That’s one thing they hold dear.
This cricket match was held at the Mets stadium, on a tiny, diamond-shaped baseball field. It was incongruity writ large. This alone indicates that Warne and Tendulkar aren’t interested in truly breaking into America. If they were serious, they would have gone the whole way with it and branded it as its own entity.
What’s more, this whole thing feels really Indian-heavy. The casual American observer might be excused for thinking that the game has its origins in Delhi or Mumbai. The whole match day experience was that of an IPL fixture – all dancing girls and loud music and post-dismissal interviews; crazed supporters holding up misspelled signs along the lines of ‘SACHIN IS GOD… HE WILL DESTROY WARNE WARRIORS WITH PRECIOUS BLADE FROM GOD… WE LOVE YOU SACHIN MASTER TODAY’. It just wasn’t cricket. It certainly wasn’t the type of cricket that Curtly Ambrose grew up playing, that’s for sure.
Exhibition matches can be fucking ordinary. But I’m okay with them in principle, as long as the whole thing is framed as a shameless promotional exercise. But Warne and Tendulkar have maintained throughout that this is cricket’s chance to – here’s that fucking phrase again – Make It In America. Warne even told CNN last week that this tour is about “globalising the game of cricket.” He sees T20 as the biggest chance in America, given their penchant for Super Bowl half-time shows and NASCAR, etc. It’s fast and cool, in other words – and he and Sachin are bringing it to the states.
But is this product really the best way to showcase cricket? Or does Warne et al simply underestimate America’s ability to grasp the complexities of ‘cricket’? Are they assuming that Americans are just as time-poor as the rest of us frazzled white collar workers who only have time to consume snack-sized content?
Perhaps they could have spent several months in schools, educating kids about the legend of Don Bradman and its origins in England (before all power was ceded to the BCCI who now run international cricket at gun point). Perhaps they could have framed it as a cerebral, tactical game – Americans love stats and play books – and consider incorporating these type of Nate Silver-style analytics into their coverage.
But no, that’s far too long-term and considered an approach.
To their credit, Warne and Tendulkar have assembled some of the greatest players of the past 25 years, but sadly, many of them are now terribly overcooked. Courtney Walsh is 53 years old – and he looked all of his 53 years out there today – while others seemed to have put on a concerning amount of weight. Also, the whole thing immediately lost all credibility once it was revealed that Ajit Agarkar was playing.*
There is no way that an ‘American’ – I’m not talking about an expat, but a corn-fed ‘American as Apple Pie’ American – is going to get into cricket based on whatever this sideshow was. Sure, from a cricket-lover’s perspective it was great to see all the legends run around on a field, but the whole thing just felt like a) a vanity project, b) a cash grab, c) a desperate play for relevancy.
Baseball is America’s cricket. They don’t need – or want – another baseball. Baseball is deeply embedded in America’s national consciousness. But they might embrace something different if you take the time to understand Americans and what makes them tick.
But at the end of the day, this is all about Shane Warne, isn’t it? Shane Warne craves love. All he really wants is to love and be loved. And today, he was undisputedly the man. He took the key wickets of Lara and Tendulkar (that left-handed West Indian bloke and the little Indian guy with curly hair, for our American readers), and was (generously) awarded the Man of the Match award. He thanked everyone for coming out and praised the ‘American’ audience for turning up in their thousands. But underneath that shiny, plastic veneer, you could tell that even Warne knows this is all a bit of a joke.
Indeed, it was nothing but a vile, Indian-flavoured pastiche of Babe Ruth’s great game.
By Dave Edwards
* Seriously, I’m sure he’s a lovely man, but how did this bloke get a gig?