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    The Yankees Fan Bringing Cricket to American Fans
The Yankees Fan Bringing Cricket to American Fans
Jimmy O’Brien. Source: Al Jazeera

The Yankees Fan Bringing Cricket to American Fans

Jimmy O’Brien highlights the differences between commentating on cricket and baseball by deliberately slowing his speech. "There. That. Is. A. Huge. Wicket. That. Is. Going. To. Change. The. Match," he says, emphasising that most of the global cricket audience on ESPN Star’s feed speaks English as a second language, necessitating a slower pace. O’Brien, who hails from New Jersey where people speak quickly, initially found this adjustment challenging but eventually embraced it.

An American Voice in Cricket Commentary

O’Brien, a 35-year-old from New Jersey, serves as the American voice for the T20 World Cup commentary team. Drafted by broadcasters to act as a translator, he explains cricket in terms relatable to baseball fans and vice versa. Describing his style as conversational, he aims to be curious and ask questions. His approach has been remarkably effective in simplifying cricket for a U.S. audience. O’Brien makes the game relatable and understandable, noting that many U.S. viewers wouldn’t recognise issues like low scores on New York pitches.

Jimmy O’Brien. Source: The Telegraph
Jimmy O’Brien. Source: The Telegraph

When O’Brien joined the commentary team, many expected him to bring a brash, American, shock-jock persona. However, he has been a serious and insightful presence, with a subtle touch of humour. Reflecting on his role, O’Brien mentioned that while he enjoys being light-hearted when appropriate, he admires the high energy of his Pakistani and Indian co-commentators, noting he can’t always match their intensity.

From Baseball to Cricket

The ICC and its global broadcast partner sought an American voice for the T20 World Cup commentary. Without former U.S. players to rely on, they chose O’Brien, a recent convert to cricket who gained fame as a baseball YouTuber and content creator. With five million followers and a company, Jomboy Media, employing about 60 people, O’Brien has a significant presence. Unlike typical commentator interviews arranged via direct messages, his interview required coordination through his PA due to his busy schedule balancing cricket commentary and baseball content creation.

Meet a baseball guy making cricket fun in the US ahead of the T20 World Cup. Source: Al Jazeera
Meet a baseball guy making cricket fun in the US ahead of the T20 World Cup. Source: Al Jazeera

O’Brien’s media career took off in 2019 when he added subtitles to a heated exchange between a baseball coach and umpire. He also played a role in exposing the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal. Despite his contributions, he describes himself as a Yankees fan rather than a reporter.

O’Brien's fascination with cricket began in 2021 during paternity leave when he watched the T20 World Cup in the UAE. His childhood in Australia had given him some basic knowledge of the sport, which piqued his curiosity. He sought guidance from his Twitter audience on how to be a fan rather than learning the sport's technicalities, focusing on the emotional aspects of rooting for a team.

Rapid Ascent in Commentary

His rapid rise from watching cricket on his laptop to commentating on India vs. Pakistan in New York within three years is remarkable. He admits to being nervous during his first stint alongside Nasser Hussain and Ian Bishop but appreciated their encouragement to be himself. He uses baseball comparisons to explain cricket's nuances, although he acknowledges that some might tire of constant baseball references.

O’Brien sees Test cricket as similar to baseball due to its "ebb and flow" and believes it needs better marketing to attract new fans. He compared it to the Masters golf tournament, which, despite its length, is widely popular.

Meet a baseball guy making cricket fun in the US ahead of the T20 World Cup. Source: Al Jazeera
Meet a baseball guy making cricket fun in the US ahead of the T20 World Cup. Source: Al Jazeera

Discussing cricket’s ethical dimension, O’Brien was intrigued by the Jonny Bairstow stumping debate, contrasting it with baseball's "if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying" mentality. He recounted how his colleagues were baffled by a batsman walking voluntarily after an edge without forcing a review.

With cricket set to feature in the LA Olympics and the U.S. team exceeding expectations, there is potential for growth. However, O’Brien estimates it will take about 20 years for cricket to break into mainstream American sports, given the lack of youth participation and familiarity with the rules.

Although O’Brien will miss the next round of cricket commentary due to his baseball commitments, his unique voice will likely remain a part of cricket broadcasts. He relishes observing cricket’s nuances and believes his perspective adds value to the commentary team.

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