The ball was being smacked everywhere. Catches were held and the Florida crowd were royally entertained. Yet this was not baseball. Cricket broke out in Fort Lauderdale last weekend and, to the naked eye, it could have been Barbados or Nagpur.
Instead the reigning T20 world champions and the all-mighty Indians came to town in an historic first-ever official trip for a hurriedly-organised, though ultimately successful two-game series which has broken the door wide open for more of the same moving forward.
The Central Broward Regional Park is the only ICC ratified arena in the United States. It isn’t Lord’s. It is, however, a tidy compact arena with decent facilities which provided a belting wicket.
Records tumbled and high quality action was on offer. New Zealand and Sri Lanka played here in 2010, but this felt different. More like the real deal.
The heavens may have opened and a monsoon drenched the stadium right at the start of India’s reply to the West Indies’ total of 143 forcing an eventual abandonment, but that was the only way to put a dampener on proceedings.
Naturally, there were teething problems. Thanks to this two-match series only being announced at the start of August, brokering a TV deal to show the games on US networks proved problematic.
Considering the excellent attendances for both days and the huge interest on show at the stadium, it seemed like a missed opportunity to help grow the game. There was no advertising.
The good people of Lauderhill would have known little about these two T20 super powers until hearing the deafening roars and ear splitting blasts of music which accompanied every monster six or wicket.
“This is a good venue for us and the West Indies, and we can always come back and play more in the future,” said India skipper MS Dhoni. “On the whole, the weather suits us, the fans want to come, the host broadcasters can make money so all in all it’s a win win for everyone.
“We play a lot of cricket these days but no-one is complaining about the fixtures. Players can opt out but everything from the facilities, the broadcaster making money during this series, it’s been a good experience.”
Caribbean Premier League matches in Fort Lauderdale boasted healthy, encouraging attendances. Whether turning Uncle Sam on to the nuances of the lbw rule is the modus operandi for the ICC, and the BCCI, however, remains highly questionable.
What the governing bodies do see in the United States is a vast sports crazy country with millions of expats desperate to see their heroes in action.
The United States Cricket Association (USACA) are still dealing with the aftermath of a series of financial misdemeanours which put their push to popularise cricket firmly on the back burner. The development has stagnated somewhat.
Though ask any of the thousands of Indians and Caribbean fans here on Sunday whether or not they had an enjoyable time in the baking Florida sun and the answer would be in the affirmative.
This exercise has emphatically proved that if the right teams are put together, big money can be made. After all, that’s modern sport. It’s a business like any other. Sponsors will become interested, the whole cash machine will whirr into action for a game very few natives here understand or have any desire to watch.
Interestingly, the NBC sports network will screen the next edition of the Big Bash in Australia while ESPN have shown England Tests and Ashes series since 2013. Cricket is far from a mystical sport on these shores and last November’s cricket All Stars roadshow, led by Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne, gave the ICC a taste of what’s possible.
Of course, the stands at Citi Field in New York weren’t wash with wide eyed American fans wondering how an in-swinging yorker differs from a curveball. There were Indians, Sri Lankans and Pakistani cricket heads everywhere.
“There wasn’t much going on three or four days ago but as soon as we got to the stadium we realized everyone knew,” said Windies captain Carlos Brathwaite. “The US feels like a second home for us. If there can be some tweaks with the infrastructure here, it will be even better.”
Once the ticket details were finally announced, the seller’s website crashed. Demand was predictably sky-high. And with tickets for these matches starting at an expensive $75 to stand on the grass banks of Central Broward Stadium and racing up towards an eye popping $200, organisers knew exactly who the customers were.
Indian fans will pay over the odds to see their boys in blue live and in the flesh. Many have waited decades for the chance.
“The BCCI wanted to test the area and see how much reaction they would get to staging games like these in the United States. The cricket authorities in the US want to prove the stadiums and facilities are here to stage top class cricket,” Mohammad Ahmed Qureshi, the chief executive and founder of Cricket Council USA told Sport360.
“There is a lot of opportunity and growth here yet the big teams haven’t played here. So for India, it’s the first time and there has been a huge revenue stream as a result. Tickets have been on sale from $75, $100 right up to $200. Yes, it’s very expensive yet the stands have been full.”
Fans flew in from Los Angeles and beyond to soak up the action.
“This has been a long time in the making,” said Dale Holeness, the Jamaican-born commissioner of Broward county. “This is a dream come true, we have been working towards this for the last 14 years.
“We have invested $100 million in the stadium and this will help us bring $8 million back into Broward county. To have the West Indies playing India here is massive. It’s showcasing what we can do here. “
A billion people watching in India is something no other sport can compare with.
“We should be doing this every year. Now is the aim to bring more top tier teams into the mix – Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka. Have matches all week, maybe a tournament.
“The capacity is there and people were willing to pay hundreds, thousands of dollars to come and see the match. It was finalised in such a rush so to see the crowds has been nothing short of magnificent.”
Next year will see a tournament featuring 32 of the country’s best domestic teams competing for a prize of $100,000, with the event sanctioned by the ICC.
“This will have a great impact for US cricket, “ added Qureshi. “The ICC are trying to build the game in the US. Now the door is open for the best teams to come and play. The future looks good for cricket.”
Those who’ve droned on ad nauseum for generations about the potential impact India could have in the United States can now stop talking. Their effect is clear.
Yet whether other cricketing nations make an equally bombastic impact remains to be seen. It could be fun finding out.
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