Global cricket set for its biggest stage yet with ambition to break America

<span>Liam Plunkett and Dwayne Bravo help promote the men’s T20 World Cup in Times Square, New York.</span><span>Photograph: Mike Stobe-ICC/ICC/Getty Images</span>
Liam Plunkett and Dwayne Bravo help promote the men’s T20 World Cup in Times Square, New York.Photograph: Mike Stobe-ICC/ICC/Getty Images

Spread across six Caribbean countries and the United States of America, where some folks believe sits gold in them thar hills, the men’s T20 World Cup that whirs into life in Dallas on Saturday night may well be cricket’s most ambitious global event to date.

It certainly feels the most inclusive of any format, men or women. A record 20 teams start in four groups of five – no preliminary qualifier here – and first-timers USA, Canada and Uganda are among nine associate nations. Then there are the logistics, be it the zig-zagging travel – organisers liaising with seven separate governments – or the mind-bending 34,000-seat modular stadium on Long Island, New York that has been rapidly assembled like an Ikea flat-pack on steroids.

Related: The T20 World Cup is about to start in Dallas – has anyone there noticed?

Nassau County International Cricket Stadium, to give it its full name, will host the biggest game of all – a central pillar of the International Cricket Council’s new $3bn (£2.3bn) broadcast deal – when India take on Pakistan in Group A next Sunday. It is one of three grounds being used in the US, where 16 of the 55 matches will take place. They all come in the first round before the Caribbean takes control. But while it may not be a full-blown bugle charge on to American soil, cricket is finally scratching its itch of manifest destiny.

And, who knows, perhaps this ninth edition of the tournament formerly known as the World T20 will be the one that finally cements its primacy. Given the unstoppable spread of Twenty20 cricket in recent years, and questions about the future of its 50-over sibling during the more exclusive 10-team World Cup in India six months ago, it feels only a matter of time before the T20 World Cup becomes the Cricket World Cup.

The answer to this one may be still a little way off, it should be said, with two more 50-over men’s World Cups sold to broadcasters up until 2031 and that format still the stage where the stars of both red- and white-ball cricket convene and show off their skills. And it may also hinge on the success or otherwise of the next four weeks, as a blend of the sport’s traditional big beasts and its optimistic underdogs duke it out on both sides of the Caribbean Sea. On paper, at least, this one looks ripe for some jeopardy.

This comes with the territory, of course, T20 being the sport’s most capricious and volatile format; a game where, on any given day, just one or two heroes can bend the script to their will. But while this is witnessed regularly in the T20 leagues that now swamp the calendar – the Indian Premier League’s ticker-tape having only recently settled after last week’s final – the national pride, the rivalries, and the tantalising prospect of giant-killings means a World Cup touches the parts that the franchise world cannot.

Can Rohit Sharma’s India shake off the fatigue of that two-month IPL and show the 50-over final defeat in Ahmedabad last November was but a flesh wound? Perhaps England, boosted by Jofra Archer’s return, can put up an actual title defence this time, having relinquished that One Day International crown so meekly. It almost goes without saying that no side will want to face Australia come the sharp end, their big-game mentality so enviable and their squad stacked with champions.

The field is far wider than the so-called Big Three, however, all of whom could yet be also-rans. A personal tip is West Indies, blessed with home advantage, power-hitters, and set to be fuelled by a heady soca vibe in the stands, while teams such as Pakistan, runners-up in 2022, and New Zealand, knockout-stage regulars, can never be discounted. South Africa appear to have all the tools also. But each group has a third, possibly even fourth side that could yet pilfer one of the top two spots that leads to the rapid-fire Super Eight phase (aka two more groups of four that decide the semi-finals).

The question of whether cricket can crack America, as per the cliche, feels unlikely to be answered (not least on a subscription channel, Willow TV), although this T20 World Cup is not a one-off moonshot, rather one shoulder to the wheel of a broader push. As well as T20 cricket making its debut in the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, there is already the nascent Major Cricket League. It boasts owners with deep pockets (four of the six teams are IPL satellites) and, as per Andy Bull’s eye-catching report in the Guardian earlier this week, it has ambitions for rapid expansion in the coming years.

For all the understandable focus on this new frontier, the T20 World Cup is primarily a Caribbean affair and a pretty big deal for the region too. Cricket West Indies is expecting a $25m (£20m) windfall from hosting, as well as $300m (£235m) worth of economic activity across the host countries of Barbados, Antigua, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad and Guyana. With the tournament extending the usual tourist season by an extra month, all six governments have invested in stadium upgrades, such as LED floodlights, new big screens and additional capacity.

Teams will also be able to travel straight from the runway to their hotels on arrival, likewise the TV crews can take their equipment to the stadiums for customs checks there. For travelling fans, entry into one Caribbean country will automatically mean a visa for all. “Logistically it is a huge challenge but not something we’re not used to,” says Johnny Grave, the Englishman who serves as chief executive of CWI. “We’re blessed that the political leaders in the Caribbean are all so supportive of cricket.”

Unlike the sanitised and soulless 2007 men’s World Cup, and more akin to the 2010 World T20, a carnival atmosphere is being sought. Supporters will be able to bring cool boxes, instruments and flags into the grounds, with tickets starting as low as $6.

If there is one quibble here, it is that 25 of the 55 games – including the final at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados on 29 June – will start at 10.30am to serve the Indian TV audience. “We pushed for as many evening games as possible,” adds Grave. “But clearly compromises had to be made on behalf of the game, not least when the Indian TV market is putting in 90% of the broadcast revenue.” As such, the first sips of rum punch may well have a slight taste of toothpaste.