USA January 23, 2007

Stillborn in the USA

Contrary to reports at the weekend, it is highly unlikely that a planned one-day series between India and Australia in North America will be able to include matches in the USA

Contrary to reports at the weekend, it is highly unlikely that a planned one-day series between India and Australia in North America will be able to include matches in the USA. At present, there are no venues in the country approved by the ICC to host a one-day international. In fact, there are none even close to being recognised.

While Canada might conceivably host a few games at the quaintly named Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, the failure of Project USA - which was intended to develop the US market - has set the game back in the continent at least until 2008.

A new deal between the largely dysfunctional USA Cricket Association, whose utter inability to run the game led to its suspension by the ICC, and a marketing company called Centrex should give cricket in the USA a commercial stability hitherto absent. But it won't happen in time for this series.

To many - mainly the marketing men who so dominate the way cricket is run - the USA remains the untapped Holy Grail. Crack that, so the thinking goes, and the rewards are almost unlimited. Millions of dollars of income - up to $6 million per game for up to seven matches - was touted as a likely reward for the venture. Up to 10 million first-generation Asians make for a lucrative market, even if the average American doesn't care one jot for the game.

There are three main centres in the USA - New York , Florida and California. The speculation over the Australia-India series centred on New York, but there is not a venue there that could host a match. There was talk that an NFL stadium might be used, but that shows the lack of credibility of the reports. The major NFL stadiums are astroturf, and even if the organisers laid an artificial wicket, such a surface would not be approved for an ODI. There is one other minor detail. NFL pitches are far too narrow.

That leaves baseball grounds, and only one - the Mets' Shea Stadium - could conceivably be used. However, the cricket season in New York runs slap bang in the middle of the baseball season, so that's not an option. And drop-in-pitches are not a short-term solution as there are strict rules about transportation of soil and grass across state lines. The raw materials available in New York are just not good enough.

With that in mind, California has been earmarked as the ideal centre for the game, with the right climate and good soil. In the short-term, the venue at Burbank is the nearest to being ready. There are two grounds in Florida - at Fort Lauderdale and Broward County - but neither has pitches nearly good enough for international matches. The grass pitches they have crumble too easily. One expert told Cricinfo that soil with the right amount of clay needed to be imported, probably from Georgia, and that meant a mountain of red tape to be overcome before the project could even start.

When Andy Atkinson, the ICC's pitches guru, was consulted by the bosses of Project USA, he estimated that with the right soil and the will, a pitch could be laid and ready in around eight or nine months. Australia and India's commitments mean that the only spare dates for a North American series is June, and there is no way on earth that any grounds in the USA could be ready by then. As the flamboyant boxing promoter Don King loves to say: "it's got two chances ... slim and none, and slim just left town."

That leaves the one ICC-approved venue in Toronto, which hosted several one-day series in the late 1990s. It offers a foothold on North American soil, but a long series there would have limited appeal, and it's the USA not Canada that whets the two boards' appetites. In terms of TV coverage, they might as well play in some more established neutral centres such as Kuala Lumpur or Sharjah.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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