Inside Story: Bright dawn for cricket in Florida

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Eye on the ball: Johnson Charles bats with the stands packed full of fans.

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.

Crazy facts:

  • 03 - the 489 runs scored by the West Indies and India on Saturday is the third-highest scoring T20I of all time
  • 05 - T20 internationals have been held at the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium
  • 20 - thousand, capacity of the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium in Lauderhill
  • 223 - years since the first confirmed game of cricket was played in the United States, at Dartmouth College

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. “

The Central Broward Regional Park.

The Central Broward Regional Park.

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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West Indies-India match abandoned

Sport360 staff 28/08/2016
Rain brought a premature end to the series.

After dismissing the world champions for 143, India were 15-0 in two overs when the rain came.

Ninety minutes later, and with the outfield soaked, play was abandoned, much to the irritation of the thousands of expatriates who turned out to watch India’s first ever weekend playing in the US.

West Indies claimed the two-match series after winning the first game on Saturday by just one run.

Earlier, West Indies struggled to 143 all out with slow bowler Amit Mishra claiming a career best 3-24.

The Caribbean side had piled up 245 on Saturday in what was the third highest total of all time.

But the Florida pitch – and eventually the weather – turned its back on the strokemakers on Sunday.

Saturday century maker Evin Lewis, again standing in for the injured Chris Gayle, mustered just seven runs before he was caught at mid-off from the bowling of Mohammed Shami.

Fellow opener Johnson Charles looked set for another 50 but was dismissed seven runs short by recalled leg-break bowler Mishra who enticed a chance to Ajinkya Rahane at long-on.

The bowlers continued to apply the brakes with Ravichandran Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah getting rid of Lendl Simmons (19) and Marlon Samuels (5) respectively with the total on 76 by the 10th over.

Two overs and 22 runs later, the West Indies were six down with Ashwin having Kieron Pollard lbw for 13 and Bumrah clean bowling Andre Fletcher for three.

West Indies crawled past the 100-run mark in the 14th over; on Saturday, they were into three figures in the eighth.

Dwayne Bravo (three) tried to put his foot on the gas but his charge down the wicket was undone by a Mishra googly.

Andre Russell eked out 15 off 13 balls before he holed out off Bhuvneshwar Kumar with the score on 123.

Carlos Brathwaite (18) smashed a six and four off Mishra in the 18th over but the captain was bowled off the Indian’s last ball of his impressive spell.

Shami mopped up Samuel Badree for one with two balls of the innings left.

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Australia spoil Dilshan's farewell party

Sport360 staff 28/08/2016
Dilshan hit 42 in his last one-day international.

Australia chased down 227 in 46 overs to deny Sri Lankan batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan a winning farewell in his final ODI.

Bowlers set up the win for the visitors after restricting Sri Lanka to 226 all out in 49.2 overs with Dinesh Chandimal top-scoring with 102.

The Sri Lankan bowlers also made their presence felt with skipper Angelo Mathews providing the hosts with two early wickets including that of his opposite number David Warner.

“It’s always good to start on a winning note and go 2-1 up. I think our bowlers bowled really well in the middle overs – Zampa and Hastings,” said Warner.

Mathews got Warner caught at point for 10 as Dilshan took a splendid catch.

Aaron Finch, who scored a 29-ball 30 with three fours and a six, was next to go after left-arm spinner Amila Aponso trapped the opening batsman lbw.

Mathews struck again with his medium-pace to get Shaun Marsh, who was included in the XI in place of resting Steve Smith, out for one and put the visitors in trouble at 44 for three.

Travis Head and Bailey, who scored a gritty 70, put on 62 runs for the fourth wicket to put the tourists’ chase back on track as the duo scored runs at a decent pace.

Off-spinner Dilruwan Perera bowled Head for 36 as batting suddenly seemed difficult under lights at the Rajgiri Dambulla International Stadium.

Bailey, whose 142-ball stay was laced with five boundaries, held fort as he got Matthew Wade for company and the batsmen put on 81 for the fourth wicket to keep the visitors in sight of their target.

Man of the match Bailey posted his 20th ODI fifty as he mixed the right dose of caution and aggression, forcing the Sri Lankan think-tank to rotate their bowling options.

Dilruwan Perera finally got Wade stumped for 42 to break the dangerous stand and bring alive the packed home crowd.
Soon leg-spinner Seekkuge Prasanna got Bailey bowled in the 42nd over with Australia needing another 23 runs for victory.

A wobbling Australia lost another two wickets before Adam Zampa got the winning runs as he got the ball sailing over extra cover where Dilruwan Perera dropped the catch to the delight of the visiting players.

Mathews, Aponso and Dilruwan Perera took two wickets each.

Earlier Sri Lanka, who elected to bat first, suffered from regular fall of wickets against a persistent Australian attack led by leg-spinner Zampa.

The hosts lost two early wickets before Dilshan and Chandimal put together a 73-run partnership for the third wicket to steady the innings.

The 39-year-old Dilshan, who played his last ODI of his glittering career, scored a 65-ball 42 with the help of five boundaries before falling to Zampa.

Dilshan, who recorded 10,290 runs in 330 ODIs with 22 hundreds and 47 half-centuries, acknowledged the cheers of a raucous home crowd as he walked back to the pavilion.

“I think it’s the right decision, the way I finished my career. I’m really happy I contributed in all three departments. I’m really happy with my decision,” Dilshan said after the game.

Zampa, who returned with impressive figures of 3-38, got another wicket in his next over as he trapped Mathews lbw for two.
Chandimal, who has recorded five half-centuries and a ton in the last seven ODI innings, registered his fourth ODI century in his 117th match to keep the hosts in the hunt after they were reduced to 178 for eight.

Chandimal found the perfect partner in Perera, who made 17 off 21 balls, as the duo put together a crucial 39-run ninth wicket partnership to give the Sri Lankan total some respect.

Medium-pacers Starc, Faulkner and John Hastings took two each to back up Zampa’s efforts.

“We were about 20-30 runs short. We have so many bowlers who can bat but we didn’t have anyone partnering Chandimal,” said Mathews.

The fourth ODI of the five-match series is scheduled for August 31 at the same venue.

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