After eight glorious games at Grand Prairie Stadium, Major League Cricket arrives in Morrisville, North Carolina today for the final seven games of MLC’s inaugural 2023 regular season.
The startup T20 league, which won the right to become the official major franchise cricket league in the USA in 2019, will eventually build venues in or near each of the six franchise namesake cities. But for now, the league has embraced a “traveling circus” model, somewhat like the Premier Lacrosse League and the World Rugby Sevens Series, though one team already plays home games.
Last week’s leg in Grand Prairie, Texas included three games featuring the Texas Super Kings (TSK), an extension of the massively popular Chennai Super Kings of the India Premier League. The crowd at TSK’s three games in Grand Prairie were overwhelmingly supportive of the home team. Yellow flags waved with every boundary and wicket that went the home team’s way, and the high pitched rattle of complimentary whistles droned uninterrupted like the ringing of slot machines at a Las Vegas casino.
Those who do not follow domestic cricket in the USA closely might be wondering why this next leg of the league will be staged in Morrisville, North Carolina. After all, the closest MLC team is Washington Freedom, more than 200 miles north.
In 2018, Church Street Park hosted the ICC Americas Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifiers, featuring USA, Canada, Belize and Panama. Morrisville volunteers and ICC Americas staff worked tirelessly for days and literally weathered a storm (Hurricane Florence) to ensure the event went off without a hitch.
The returns at the time were unprecedented and seemingly priceless: more than 2,000 fans in attendance, occupying lawn chairs, park benches or blankets, for each of the USA vs Canada games. Both of those games went right down to the end under the lights, with Canada defeating USA in super overs in the first game, and then Steven Taylor scoring 22 in the final over of the second game to win and seal first place in the Regional Qualifiers.
“Lot of players have been asking me about the venue and I’ve told them how good (it is), especially the crowd that makes it really good,” said Ali Khan following LA Knight Riders loss to MI New York on Sunday. “Before this MLC, that was the only place where we would see a lot of people come and watch our games, so I’m really excited, and I’m really looking forward to meeting all the kids that I met last time when I was there.”
It’s been nearly five years since that qualifier, and for a time after, USA Cricket used Morrisville as a rally point before sending the team abroad for big tournaments. Fans would even come to Church Street Park to celebrate USA player birthdays at the picnic shelter when USA would train at the ground.
But in spite of all the success and hope born in Morrisville, the beleaguered USA Cricket has yet to schedule any games at the venue since that qualifier in 2018. Lacking ODI certification, and with USA Cricket favoring less well attended grounds due to the cost of managing fan traffic (seriously), locals continue to meet the effective cynicism of the national governing body with optimism and unending pride. MLC teams which arrived this week at RDU airport were greeted by dozens of cheering fans en route to baggage claim, a tradition established here in 2018 when Canada, Belize and Panama first visited.
Recently recognized in the Abu Dhabi T10 by the Morrisville Samp Army, the famous fan base has instead come out in numbers over the last two seasons for the Morrisville Raptors of Minor League Cricket. MLC have also staged the league’s first two Minor League Cricket Finals Weekends at Church Street Park in 2021 and 2022, and fans have not disappointed.
While the ground is beautiful and charming and endearing to fans and locals, it is not without its problems. The small footprint of the venue limits it to around 3,000 spectators reasonably, with 1,500 permanent seats recently installed thanks to a deal between the town and Major League Cricket. Tickets for the Morrisville leg have already sold out, as hundreds and maybe even thousands of fans are left without a seat.
But as improvements continue to be made to the intimate ground, the hope is to earn ODI certification, lure events such as the Fairbreak Invitational, and hopefully host some World Cup games in 2024. This next week in Morrisville could go a long way towards those goals.
The next seven games at Church Street Park will decide the four spots for the MLC playoffs, for which teams will return to Grand Prairie, Texas. Considering what could be on the line for cricket in Morrisville and the nature of cricket in Associate Nations in general, it’s appropriate that every game at Church Street Park carry such weight.
“That’s some place where there’s a lot of passionate fans,” popular USA spinner Nosh Kenjige of MI New York (1-2) told Emerging Cricket. “They love their cricket, and definitely they’ll come out in numbers, so yeah, definitely excited to go to Carolina and then come back to Dallas after.”
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