In July last year, Lord’s witnessed a congregation of cricketing glitterati for the MCC Bicentenary celebrations. Most pleasant reunions generally start with:”Why didn’t we think of this earlier?” They invariably end with: “We should certainly do this more often.” This one was no different, as Sachin Tendulkar recalls it.
Once they were done lighting up the hallowed turf of cricket’s revered home, the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne and Brian Lara sat around talking about the good ol’ days. It’s not always that these nostalgia-induced promises of encores are followed up on with any diligence. Tendulkar and Warne though wanted to buck that trend.
As should be expected when you’re trying to bring together a constellation of millionaire sportstars on one stage, it has taken a lot of planning and obviously a lot of dollars. But the erstwhile on-field nemeses have managed to pull it off, and that too in a destination that has largely remained abstinent to cricket’s global reach. And come November, the Cricket All Stars Series 2015 will see Sachin’s Blasters and Warne’s Warriors face each other in three T20 matches in the United States, with some of the other starry names ranging from Lara to Ponting, and Ambrose to Akram.
“It was great fun at Lord’s as we sat talking. We retired players said we must meet again. Shane Warne and I got thinking about it and we decided to travel around to places where there is not much cricket played and get people excited. Go there as cricket ambassadors,” Tendulkar tells The Indian Express.
He also adds that it wasn’t an idea that he had to hard-sell to some of the cricketing luminaries that he shared the field with during his time. “‘Why didn’t you think of this earlier?’ is the response I got from everyone. They all wanted to do it, and they all wanted to be part of it. There are 24 heroes in the mix, and in terms of generating excitement there is no lack of it,” he says.
The retired Indian cricket legend doesn’t just expect the All Stars—which will see matches played at New York, Houston and Los Angeles—to be a historic event, he in fact goes on to call it the “beginning of cricket in America”.
The second half of the 1990s was a period which saw a mass migration of Indians to the US, thanks mainly to the IT boom. It was also a time when Tendulkar, Warne, Lara and Muralitharan to name a few were at their peak. Cricket itself though was still a few years away from reaching television-screens around the world. And most expats from that era had to be content with hearing about the exploits of the sporting heroes they had left behind over the telephone or occasionally read about it on the still-nascent internet. Till recently, they have had to depend on footage on pirated websites streaming live action from the other side of the globe.
For them, the chance to see Tendulkar and Warne donning cricket gear and doing battle in their backyard might be a reverie come true. It’s a re-run that you will never tire watching. But it’s not only the expats that the All Stars are targetting, according to Tendulkar. “Our cricket followers will definitely be there. Along with them, we want to encourage Americans to pick it up too. It will be fantastic. The idea is to also engage local children, and do coaching clinics and get the schools involved,” he explains.
These days it’s a common phenomenon to have siblings or friends who’ve moved to the US getting converted into staunch devotees of the NFL, the NBA or the Major League Baseball (MLB). It’s generally a result of the exposure they get to American sports through their peers there. And Tendulkar believes a reciprocation could be the answer to the million-dollar question, “How do you explain cricket to an American?” He believes that the onus is on the expats to spread the language of cricket even though the All Stars management will be distributing brochures explaining the rules of the game during the three matches.
“Many of my friends who went and settled in America had no idea about baseball. And their local friends took them to see baseball matches, and they understood it. Similarly, I would tell all Indians, Asians and those who understand cricket to take local Americans to cricket matches,” he says.
Tendulkar recalls his own first fling with baseball as an example, when he went to see the iconic Derek Jeter play his final match for the New York Yankees. “To be frank, I was doing exactly what a local American would be doing to understand cricket, I was asking those guys to explain, and I learnt slowly,” he says before quipping, “One thing I did learn was that you only have to face full-tosses. But the difficult part is hitting the ball within the striking zone.”
The three matches in November will be played in baseball stadiums, with drop-in pitches. While it will be the first time playing cricket on American soil for most of the 24 men signed up for the event, Tendulkar recalls having played in a couple of exhibition matches back in 1990. He doesn’t remember much apart from the fact that rain ensured that the 50-over contest was shortened. But he does remember 20,000 showing up at the ground.
It was in 1932 that The Don of cricket landed in New York as part of an extended honeymoon and even met Babe Ruth. Eighty-three years later, a galaxy of stars are set to descend upon the Big Apple for a glittering reunion, but this time hoping that it inspires a revolution.