Meet ‘Jomboy’: The Yankees fan turned cricket convert using baseball to call the T20 World Cup

Jimmy O'Brien - Meet the Yankees fan using baseball to call cricket's T20 World Cup
Jimmy O'Brien, AKA Jomboy, is taking cricket to new audiences - Jomboy Media

Jimmy O’Brien pauses and then slows down his voice to highlight the difference between commentating on cricket compared to baseball.

“There. That. Is. A. Huge. Wicket. That. Is. Going. To. Change. The. Match.” Because most of the cricket audience on the global feed supplied by ESPN Star have English as a second language, O’Brien was advised to talk a word at a time on commentary. “I’m from the east coast of the US where we talk very fast. It was foreign to me and I was out of my element. I have not been out of my element for a while so that is a good thing.”

O’Brien has been the American voice on comms for this T20 World Cup. A 35-year-old from New Jersey, O’Brien was drafted in by the broadcasters to be, in essence, a translator, a commentator who can compare cricket to baseball and, in reverse, explain cricket in baseball terms to those who do not know the sport. He describes his style as “sitting at the bar stool together and noticing things” and “the role I’m playing is to be curious and ask questions”.

It has been remarkably effective, O’Brien simplifying cricket to its basics in a very understandable and relatable way for a US audience – pointing out they would have no idea that low scores on the New York pitch were a problem – and there should be room for voices other than those with 100 Test caps. When he was announced as part of the commentary team alongside the usual serious voices of Ricky Ponting, Nasser Hussain and Ian Bishop, many expected him to be the brash, American, shock-jock voice who would provide in-your-face counterpoint.

US fans cheer on their team from the stands before the game v Ireland
American cricket fans have had a rare chance to see top-level matches in the flesh because of the World Cup - Shutterstock/Pankaj Nangia

But O’Brien has been a sober and serious presence over the mic with underlying hint of mischief and humour that you think would come out given more time and exposure. “Am I supposed to be clownier or full of humour, or using your guys’ phrase, taking the p--- or mickey? I enjoy the sport. If I find something funny I will be light-hearted but the other guys and girls I am with are so good at the energy. I find the Pakistani and Indian commentators I am sitting next to are so good at getting riled up and I sit there thinking. ‘I can’t match that’.”

The ICC and its global broadcast partner cast around for an American voice and with no former United States players to rely on, they fell on O’Brien who has not played the game and is a recent convert to cricket, but made a name for himself as a baseball YouTuber and content creator on social media. He has five million followers across all platforms and his company, Jomboy Media, employs around 60 people.

Jimmy O'Brien
O'Brien is working with Ricky Ponting, Nasser Hussain and Ian Bishop at the T20 World Cup - Jomboy Media

It is usually pretty straightforward to interview a commentator. A journalist sends them a WhatsApp message asking if they have time for a chat and they either say yes, no or completely ignore you. It was different with O’Brien. A sign of his stature and the size of the media market in the United States is that this interview is arranged through his PA and it takes a couple of attempts and weeks to nail him down because he is so busy switching from cricket to creating his baseball content. His website even has its own merchandise store. Ponting is yet to sell his own-brand T-shirts.

O’Brien is a skilled lipreader, something he learned in childhood, and his media career took off in 2019 when he added subtitles to a row between a baseball coach and umpire. He built on that when he played a part in helping to expose a scandal in baseball when Houston Astros were using cameras to steal signs from opponents but he describes himself as “not a reporter. A Yankees fan”.

He fell for cricket as recently as 2021 when his son was born and he was on paternity leave and because of Covid there was little live sport other than the T20 World Cup in the UAE. He spent two years in Australia between the ages of eight and 10 so there was latent knowledge. “We played every recess and I just knew enough about stumps, can’t bend your arm and you run back and forth. It was enough to get curious when I got older.”

‘I enjoyed diving into the weeds of a sport that is all weeds’

He asked his Twitter audience to “teach me how to be a fan, don’t teach me the sport” of cricket. “I wanted to know where I should be emotionally if I am rooting for this team and my audience were very helpful.”

He was not interested in the deep complexities of cricket – that would come later – only enough to appreciate the game. “I enjoyed learning something new and diving into the weeds of a sport that is all weeds, basically.”

It has been a remarkable rise in three years from watching cricket on his laptop to sitting in the commentary box at a World Cup commentating on India v Pakistan in New York. “The first game started and my first stint was with Nasser and Bish and I was like, ‘I shouldn’t talk, you guys talk’. So it has been scary, nerve-wracking but I have been very grateful. They have been very encouraging to just be who I am, notice things and ask questions.

“It is very easy for them to bring me in by asking if baseball has an equivalent. I know some people out there are sick of the constant baseball talk but it is an easy way for them to bring me in to explain some of the differences and similarities between the sports. But I would like it not to be just comparisons with baseball.”

He says that but of course, asking about the similarities and differences is mandatory. “There are so many variables. Conditions play way more of a part in cricket. In baseball, boundaries will change with every stadium but each stadium will stay the same whereas in cricket if the pitch is two strips across from on the square it can make a big difference to the size of the boundaries.

“Clearly we don’t have the ball-changing condition over the course of an innings and the variable that creates, nor the pitch or surface. I wonder if we have sun versus overcast, dew on the grass, issues? Pitchers swing it in the air so if it is an overcast day they will get more movement on the ball, but that is not part of the rhetoric or thought process in baseball. It has to be true or similar but it is just not a thing.”

Aaron Jones of USA cuts a dejected figure following the T20 Cricket World Cup match between USA and India in New York
Baseball can help US audiences who have had little contact with cricket understand the sport - Getty Images/Alex Davidson

It may come as a surprise but he loves Test cricket, preferring it to T20 because “it is more similar to baseball” due to its “ebb and flow”. But he thinks it needs a marketing overhaul. “I think Test cricket is presented poorly to new fans. I think everyone wants to daunt the person they are talking to – ‘it is five days long’. I am like, ‘the Masters is four days long and everybody loves the Masters, even people who don’t like golf’. Test cricket is a similar watch to the Masters.”

How about the spirit of cricket? O’Brien was absorbed by the Jonny Bairstow stumping that led to introspective debate on the ethics of sport. “In baseball there is the phrase, ‘If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying’. I was watching one of the World Cup matches with guys at my company. I was not on comms. The batsman got an edge, the umpire did not give him out and while the bowling team were talking about a review, the batsman walked. My office could not believe it. Why would he give himself up and not make them use their review in the off chance the technology is wrong? They saw it as quitting almost, a bad mentality.”

With cricket in LA Olympics, there is a base to grow

The United States team has exceeded expectations and making the last eight has guaranteed a place in the next Twenty20 World Cup in India in 2026 – and with the LA Olympics featuring the sport in 2028, there is a base to grow. But O’Brien estimates it is a “20-year project” for cricket to break out of the south Asian, British and Caribbean ex-pat communities in the United States.

“That is not going to happen quickly. Major League Soccer and WNBA [women’s basketball] are two success stories right now of leagues that are picking up a lot of momentum but it took them about 20 years to get to this point and those are sports that the youth play here and the country knows the general rules, too.

“Cricket has got it harder because the youth does not play the sport, you do not grow up knowing the rules. But they have it easier in other ways because of the huge ex-pat community that is already here and willing to pay and go see it.”

O’Brien will miss the next round because it clashes with his baseball commitments but it is unlikely cricket audiences have heard the last of him because he provides the voice of a different audience.

“I am not ‘in it’ with cricket whereas with baseball I am in the argument, I will debate anything you want, I have emotional ties and get heated. With cricket and things like the Bairstow stumping, I just loved being a wallflower eating it up.”