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Major League Cricket’s expansion plan poses a threat to English competitions

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Major League Cricket has announced ambitious new expansion plans for the sport in the USA. In a move that will have significant implications for the landscape of the professional sport in England, MLC, which began with a 19-game season, has confirmed it will expand to 34 games by 2025. The league currently includes six franchises but plans to launch two more in the near future, and two more soon after that. The announcement comes just after MLC has been fully legitimised by the news that its matches have been awarded List A status by the International Cricket Council.

“It was always intended to be a 10 team league,” MLC’s chief executive, Vijay Srinivasan, told the Guardian. “Studies show that we are a big enough country, with a big enough demographic to support 10 teams, so that’s our plan. We had 19 games in our first season, will have 25 in our second. I think we want to get to 34 next year, and just gradually keep expanding.” The second season, which starts at the end of the World T20, runs for 23 days and overlaps with the Hundred. Next year’s edition will be significantly longer and start earlier. Srinivasan said MLC is keen to play in June.

“Ultimately for us our ideal calendar is to start much earlier, in the late spring or early summer,” said Srinivasan. The tournament was pushed back this year because of the men’s T20 World Cup, which is using the MLC’s stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas. “With the Indian Premier League ending in late May, I think our sweet spot would be to start in early June, which is when we have the school holidays in the US, and go into July. That’s how we would like to establish our window.” That would clash with the T20 Blast season but leave the Hundred to run from late July through August.

English cricket has already had to adapt to sharing its summer with a competing league. Last year, Jason Roy gave up his England contract so he could take up a job with the LA Knight Riders, while Surrey’s Sunil Narine skipped Surrey’s appearance on Blast finals day because he was also playing for LA. Surrey’s director of cricket, Alec Stewart, said at the time it was “disappointing and frustrating” to “lose a player of Narine’s quality at late notice”. Narine’s decision was a sobering reminder of the status of English domestic cricket.

The MLC’s expansion plans will also increase pressure on the English game to decide whether or not to bring private investment into the Hundred. The England and Wales Cricket Board, the 18 counties and Marylebone Cricket Club agreed that it was the “direction of travel” for the game on 10 May, but there is frustration about slow progress. MLC boasts a formidable array of investors, including four IPL sides – the Kolkata Knight Riders, the Mumbai Indians, the Chennai Super Kings, and the Delhi Capitals – as well as significant business figures such as Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella.

“All of these people who came on board with us when we started five years ago have been immensely successful in other walks of life,” said Srinivasan, “You know they understand that this is not one of those things where you can just turn a switch. The expectation was never that this would be an overnight transition. They’ve been immensely patient and they’ve backed us all the way through.” MLC has already established a series of academies and a minor league system to develop local players. It is now working on developing more List A venues.

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“We’re not here to play a league and go away every year,” added Srinivasan. “We feel like it is our role is to build the infrastructure for cricket in the US. MLC is the means to an end, if you will. I think 10 years from now, I think you’ll see a very different landscape for cricket in the US. We’ll have a very robust set of venues around the country, we’ll have a home and away sort of format for MLC, and we’ll have a much larger pool of players as a result in the system. Hopefully that means, we will also have a very strong sort of USA team. Those are all our ambitions.”

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