Cricket’s Home Run to America
For the first time, cricket will hit a home run,” said an advertisement for the India versus West Indies T20 series, in the United States of America, referring to the first time when the USA witnessed an international cricket game of this level.
After the Indian Test team played a four-match Test series against West Indies in the Caribbean Islands, the T20 series took place at the Central Broward Stadium in Lauderhill, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, a mid-sized coastal Florida city, 30 miles north of Miami. It was surely one of a kind experience for the Americans who have been deprived of this beautiful game for long.
The series was widely called a promotional gig to promote cricket in the US and realistically analysing, it definitely was. But it isn’t like a promotional series cannot have a good quality play. Both India and West Indies, two T20 champions, displayed their best games and thoroughly entertained the crowd in the stadium.
One might say that India is the ultimate destination for cricketing promotions but the ICC and cricketers widely believe that to build a worldwide appeal for the game, it’s important to make it successful in the powerful nation, that is the US.
The world admits to the fact that the US is a super power and to expand the sport and its culture, it’s important for the sport to reach the nation and woo its audience and who better than the two world T20 champions who had very recently locked horns in the T20 World Cup semi-final.
India can be called the face of brand cricket. The kind of craziness India and Indians exhibit for the sport is unmatchable, and of course, there are many Indians who live in America.
The Indians and Indian-Americans totally flocked the stadium with, of course, a huge crowd from West Indies also travelling to support their team but like captain MS Dhoni wittingly mentioned, “The team (India) will find support even if they played in the Bermuda Triangle.”
The challenge for the sport was to draw the native Americans to the stadium and the count has come out to be decent. So, it is clear that even if not perfect, but it’s a good start for the settlement of cricket in the United States.
India with this primary outing in the USA joined Sri Lanka for the world record of playing cricket in 19 countries. The USA became the 19th country where Indian cricket set their feet in their 84 years of cricketing history.
Arch rivals Pakistan follow India closely on the list having played in 18 countries and West Indies at 17. The series also saw India playing international cricket in the ninth non-Test playing nation after United Arab Emirates (UAE), Canada, Singapore, Kenya, Malaysia, Netherlands, Scotland and Ireland.
Coming to the games, unfortunately, only one T20 could be fully played but it was surely explosive. The first T20 saw the highest ever T20 score with 245 runs.
India came close to creating another history but fell just short of successfully chasing the mammoth score. The game saw three young stars, namely, West Indies’ Johnson Charles and Evin Lewis and India’s KL Rahul.
Johnson Charles gave wings to the West Indian unleashing of batting prowess as he scored a half-century in just 20 balls equalling the record of the mighty Jamaican Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard along with hitting a total of 79 runs.
Along with Charles, Evin Lewis opened the batting line-up of West Indies and proved to be just worthy of that position with an impressive knock of 100. Probably taking a leaf out of Charles’ booklet, Lewis went all out and recorded the perfect 100 to set the platform for the big run feast, which was surely the audience’s delight.
Indian KL Rahul showed great heart and composure as he scored a commendable 110, which though eventually went waste, but surely his knock kept India into the game till the very end.
Sticking along with Rohit Sharma (62 runs) and MS Dhoni (43 runs), he kept the Indian innings stable and continued his sensational T20 form from the Indian Premier League (IPL). Rahul, with his century, also became only the third Indian to register a tonne in T20s.
While the second game couldn’t bear result due to the weather conditions, the one big takeaway for India from the game was Amit Mishra. Mishra was taken into the squad after the first T20 and it proved to be a masterstroke. It was his sensational bowling that restricted the world champions to a mere 143 runs after they had registered a mighty 245 in the previous game.
India primarily was at a slight disadvantage into the series as they were completely new to the environment and the ground while every West Indian player had a taste of the stadium through some of the matches of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) that were played here.
This eventually also showed in the two matches when the first game saw West Indies bursting crackers with the bat while into the second game, the Indian bowlers seemed to have found their feet.
As Florida and America, on the whole, witnessed history on their soil, there are quite many areas that the American Cricket has to work on in order to develop the game in the country. First and foremost, the country just needs to have more world-class stadiums.
Though the Lauderhill Stadium has surely developed by leaps and bounds from what it was earlier, there are some issues to be handled there. Anil Kumble and Dhoni both praised the pitch, outfield and the facilities over there and they have surely been upgraded from the time when former US bowler Usman Khwaja said, “The wicket at Lauderhill stadium had very low bounce a few years ago and was not suited for professional cricket.
There were times when the ball would not go higher than ankle height.” But the problem of weather conditions affecting the play in the stadium is a huge one.
South Florida (where Lauderhill Stadium is situated) has a sub-tropical climate which means that there are two kinds of seasons there — wet and dry; wet is the summer and dry are the winters. The most violent summer season there is mainly from August to October and this is exactly when the T20s were slated to be held.
Also, Florida has one of the wettest summer in North America which makes it even more difficult for cricket matches to be held in this season and the outcome may be like what happened to the second T20.
Notably, when the Miami Marlins baseball team shifted its base from Lauderhill, their new home had a retractable roof. The thunderstorms here, even if short, do a lot of damage to the game of cricket.
Like in the second T20, the storm that stopped the play was fierce. Despite being short, it hampered the ground greatly and by the time the storm ended, the field was rendered un-playable.
Another major issue was the organisation of the matches though it was done by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
There were major complaints about the way the series was marketed in the US. The games weren’t telecasted on any American channel but only aired on a website specialising in Indian programming. It brought about the feeling that the game was mainly for the Indian-Americans and that was exactly what showed in the stadium crowd as well.
Another area where the organisation majorly faltered was because of its obsession for telecast in India.
The matches were started in the breakfast hour of Florida time only so that it could fall into the prime time slot for India and when satellite issues erupted before the start of the second T20, the match was delayed by 40 minutes. Despite predictions of a thunderstorm, the match was delayed and it was the game that suffered in the end.
Along with being a point of irritation for the stadium crowd that had spent a good amount of money to watch the game, India, unfortunately, lost the series due to no result and West Indies lost the chance of surpassing India to no. 2 position on the ICC T20 rankings.
Barring the loopholes, the series was a great advent for the game in the US and like MS Dhoni said: “We have to see that it is a new venture for cricket.”
Having sat dormant for long, the Central Broward Stadium in Lauderhill, Florida has finally got some cricket this summer. These matches have been the first games of elite cricket at the stadium since West Indies played New Zealand in two T20 games in 2012.
For so long the victim of the chronically failing United States of America Cricket Association’s (USACA) inability to function, there have been a total of eight high quality T20 matches at the venue, which is also the only international standard cricket stadium in the USA.
With the tickets starting at $75 and the ‘VIP’ ones as much as $200, it wasn’t cheap and the fixtures weren’t announced until four weeks before the games were due to take place. Still, people came. The crowd was more impressive for the first T20 match than the second, which showed that the appetite amongst existing cricket fanatics still exists in the USA.