May 21, 2010

Cricket in gator country

The significance of the Sri Lanka versus New Zealand bilateral T20 series, which is due to kick off on May 22nd, is considerably enhanced by a quick look at the location of their clash: Central Broward Regional Park, Lauderhill, Florida; a classic

The New Zealand - Sri Lanka series could open the door for cricket to take root in the US © CCUSA

The significance of the Sri Lanka versus New Zealand bilateral T20 series, which is due to kick off on May 22nd, is considerably enhanced by a quick look at the location of their clash: Central Broward Regional Park, Lauderhill, Florida; a classic "no-bad-seats-in-the-house" ballpark common in the minor-league baseball world.

International cricket has finally arrived in the US. And unsurprisingly it is the T20 variant that has breached the ramparts and made it over the top.

There are several reasons why this development should be of interest. Firstly, a new international venue in a minor cricketing country always holds the potential to broaden cricket's player and fan base (success in Florida might see the development of a parallel situation in California).

Secondly, for the fans that live in the US in semi-exile, this provides a fix for the craving for live cricket. Lastly, and most significantly for me, cricket in the US has always been shown in its genteel, park cricket variant. One of my beefs with Joseph O'Neill's excellent Netherland was that his authorial energies and talents were devoted to lyrical descriptions of relatively mellow park cricket. This will be top-class international cricket, and in a small venue, the power, speed and athleticism of a T20 cricketer will be on full display for an American viewer (and will hopefully lead us away from the situation I bemoaned in these columns some time ago).

Thirdly, there are several lip-smacking potential matchups possible in the future. Obviously, any game involving India will attract large crowds but I suspect West Indies, England, and Pakistan games would also do well. Florida is easily accessible from those areas on the East Coast that feature large Indian, Pakistani and West Indian populations (Florida itself is home to a large immigrant community from the Caribbean). English fans are numerous on the East Coast and will no doubt travel in significant numbers. Given the globetrotting capacities of the Barmy Army, they will feature at Florida games (what's not to like about a destination featuring beaches and beer?).

In general, Fort Lauderdale's proximity to East Coast cities and the short-n-sweet nature of the series makes for a great cricketing vacation. Jump on a short flight to Florida, rent a car, check into a hotel, hit the beaches, go to the game, then back to the beaches after the game. (Harried parents might combine this with a Disneyland trip up north).

Most ambitiously, I forecast the following: young Americans, no matter what their ethnic background, might be sufficiently enthused by the international version of the game to think about playing the game seriously. It is not inconceivable that down the line there will be Americans vying for spots in the future global versions of the IPL, participating in a true free market of cricketing labour. OK, I'm done with my pipedreams.

There are concerns, of course (the floodlight snafu is a small example). Will the pitches be conducive to good cricket? The local authorities have taken this seriously and appear to have sought expert assistance in the form of a Kiwi groundsman. Will the games have the atmosphere associated with an international T20? Given the India-Pakistan experiences in Toronto, I don't see why not. Will large enough crowds turn up to make this into a worthwhile investment? As indicated above, I think that for the right matchups, finding large crowds will not be a problem, provided the local association gets the word out at the right time in the right places.

Cricket in the US might still go the way of many other curiosities that have made splashy appearances on these shores, only to be followed by slides into obscurity. For now though, it's time to give the Destination USA folks' adventure a fair chance.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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