Dallas Dreams of Cricket

Blessed with good weather, a large South Asian diaspora, and having hosted the Major League Cricket (MLC), the Texan city is well on its way to becoming the cricket hub of the USA. Grand Prairie Stadium hosted seven games of the inaugural MLC season, and on average filled up around 80% of the 7000-plus seats. Location. Weather. Facilities. People. In four words, you have the summary of why Texas has become the hub of cricket in America.

“It’s not even a question,” says USA player and Texas resident Andries Gous. “It’s 100% Texas. Whether it’s tournaments, games, camps, or whatever it is that’s being held – it’s in Texas.”

“I definitely moved for the stadium,” says Gous, talking about Dallas’s Grand Prairie facility, which will host four matches during this World Cup, including the opening fixture between USA and Canada. “I can practice at the stadium, and there’s now outdoor nets being built. The facilities are just better in Dallas at the moment.”

For players, Texas represents the result of a “build it and they will come” philosophy. Dallas and Houston both now have infrastructure that attracts players domestically and from overseas. In the last year alone, more than a dozen cricketers, both international and domestic, have moved to one of the two cities.

“We looked all over the country,” explains Justin Geale, tournament director for MLC, who have leased and developed the Grand Prairie facility in Dallas, completed less than a year ago. “The original thought was that it’s probably easier to convert a baseball stadium,” he says. The search for one such was extensive. “I’d be surprised if there’s a Minor League stadium in the country that’s closed or for sale that we didn’t know about.”

The city of Grand Prairie owns the stadium, and MLC has an exclusive lease to it. All the upgrades that have taken place, at a cost of US$21 million, have been funded by the investors and teams within MLC. The actual site had enough space for a renovated stadium to be built, and practice facilities are now being added immediately outside it.

A key part of US cricket’s recent history involves Vijay Srinivasan and Sameer Mehta, co-founders of American Cricket Enterprises, which operates MLC, and crucially, are also co-founders of Willow TV, a 24×7 cricket channel in the US that broadcasts all major cricketing events in the country.

Dallas already boasted a number of indoor facilities, and it is estimated that there are over 1000 juniors playing cricket in the area. Furthermore, a Sixes Social Cricket bar is situated just north of the city, one of only two locations outside the UK where the cricket-themed bar has a venue.

While the growth has been exponential, the sport, at a recreational level at least, remains one that is played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora. According to Kalia, 99% of children playing in Dallas are of South Asian heritage. The question is whether that matters. After all, America is a massive country with a population of 335 million. And while those with Indian heritage make up just 1.4% of that figure, that’s 4.5 million people – only about 500,000 fewer than the population of New Zealand.

As such, the US boasts a passionate but diluted fan base that is spread across a country the size of a continent. But now, with children who are second- or third-generation Americans growing up and playing the sport their parents knew and loved, it is burgeoning and excelling in specific locations. Comparisons or questions about whether cricket will become the new baseball are lazy ones. It never has been, nor will it ever be the goal to make it that.

“The plan now is for the USA national team to base themselves at Grand Prairie in the near future. There have also been discussions with English counties about the prospect of pre-season training camps being held in the city. But the ultimate aim is for Dallas to be the location where teams touring the West Indies add a handful of fixtures on to the end or start of a tour to play a strong US national team.

“We’re building a high-performance center,” says Geale. “And players really enjoy their time here. It’s a great place to bring the family and the golf clubs.” And also,” he says with a smile, “you get to see Disneyland on the way home too.”