• Sunday, April 14, 2024

CRICKET

Kohli and Babar can spark US cricket boom, says Plunkett

Babar Azam and Virat Kohli

By: Eastern Eye

ENGLAND World Cup winner Liam Plunkett says cricket superstars such as Virat Kohli and Babar Azam can help bolster the game in the United States when it hosts the T20 World Cup.

The Twenty20 showpiece, which starts on June 1, is being jointly staged by the United States and the West Indies.

It will be the first major international cricket tournament played in the US, with a sell-out crowd expected for the clash between arch-rivals India and Pakistan at a temporary 34,000-seat venue in Long Island, New York.

That match could feature a dramatic face-off between two of the world’s best batsmen in India’s Kohli and Pakistan’s Azam.

“I know that it’s hard to get tickets,” Plunkett told AFP in a video call from Philadelphia.

“People are asking me for tickets, like I’m Ticketmaster or something. I have got nothing to do with it. I am sure there will be a resale value. People are trying to sell it for $1,500 and people are buying the tickets for that, which is crazy to think.

“I said to someone, ‘If you had Babar Azam and Virat Kohli stood next to (NBA star) LeBron James, the queues for the cricketers would be just as long or not longer’. They are so massive around the world.

“People don’t believe that. People in America don’t realise that more people watch India versus Pakistan than watch the (NFL) Super Bowl, which is crazy.”

Liam Plunkett

Plunkett, 38, played in last year’s inaugural edition of Major League Cricket (MLC), a USbased franchise tournament that used the same short and sharp 20-overs-per-side format as the upcoming global showpiece.

“It was successful,” said Plunkett, speaking with fewer than 100 days to go until the start of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024.

“In terms of the spectacle, I felt I could have been anywhere in the world playing franchise cricket,” added the former Durham and Yorkshire paceman, who played for the San Francisco Unicorns. Until last year, England were reigning world champions in both one-day (50-over) and Twenty20 international cricket.

But the defence of their 50-over crown, which Plunkett helped them win on home soil in 2019, ended in disappointment in India, where they failed to reach the knockout stages.

“Obviously, they (England) didn’t perform in the last 50-over World Cup,” said Plunkett.

“But they’ve got some of the best players in the world. If they catch fire they can change games. Jos (captain Jos Buttler) struggled last time, but if Jos turns up he can be player of the World Cup.”

The last of Plunkett’s 124 international appearances across all formats came in the memorable 2019 World Cup final at Lord’s, where England beat New Zealand in a sudden-death “Super Over” to become world champions in the one-day international format for the first time.

“I was very lucky to play with the best white-ball team that’s come out of England, very fortunate that I helped to win that World Cup with a group of guys who have been very successful,” he said.

“England can always be better at managing people towards the back end of their career.”

Plunkett, who has been plagued by back and calf injuries, is contemplating if his body can stand up to the rigours of one more season of MLC, with the less stressful Masters and Legends circuit another option.

Longer-term, having based himself in the United States after marrying his American-born wife, Plunkett is also keen to play a part in the local cricket scene after he has hung up his boots by setting up a cricket academy. “The good thing about being here is to help cricket in the community, he said. “I love it here, I’ve been here with my girlfriend, now wife. I’m happy living in the States.”

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