A potential Field of Dreams
It's the brand new stadium they're hoping will turn out to be cricket's Field of Dreams in the United States. The president of Cricket Canada says it could become the spiritual home for the sport in North America while it reminds former West Indies batsman Lawrence Rowe of Trelawny, the Jamaican venue that hosted the opening ceremony of the 2007 ICC World Cup.
From unlikely beginnings, Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, south Florida is aiming to be a prime USA cricketing destination. It will stage four ambitious Twenty20 weekends in 2008, starting with the MAQ T20 International Cricket Tournament from May 23-25 organised by Cricket Council USA (CCUSA).
These will be the first cricket matches at Central Broward, an all-purpose stadium that was opened in November last year. "While they play other sports on the ground, everything about it - from its circular dimension to the lighting - is directed towards cricket," said Nino DiLoreto, Director of Media for CCUSA.
Built on land once zoned for industrial use, the stadium is simply known as Main Event Field. It sits inside a larger park that also contains two artificial turf fields, tennis and basketball courts plus an aquatic centre with pools and slides.
At a cost of $71 million - including $47 million for Main Event Field - the project was funded by public money in Lauderhill, a city in one of America's most diverse counties that is a short drive inland from Miami.
The park is located on the crossroads of Route 441 and Sunrise Boulevard, an area nicknamed Jamaica Hill because of its Caribbean shops, restaurants and businesses. Rowe, 59, voted one of Jamaica's five best cricketers of all time, has lived nearby for almost a quarter of a century.
He will coach the West Indies All-Stars team in the MAQ T20 International Tournament and tested out the stadium and its lights by facing a few balls in the middle. "I'd been there before but it was the first time I got out on to the pitch," Rowe said. "They need to do a few more things in the next couple of weeks, but it's decent... a very reasonable stadium.
"Some parts of it and its configuration remind me of Trelawny, on the north coast of Jamaica." Trelawny's Greenfield stadium hosted several warm-up matches for the 2007 ICC World Cup plus the opening ceremony.
The grounds are of similar size: Greenfield with a capacity of 25,000, compared to 20,000 for Central Broward, which has a 5000-seat stadium and grassy areas capable of holding an additional 15,000 spectators.
Ben Sennik, president of the Canada Cricket Association - Canada will provide the fourth team for the tournament - toured the venue last week. "We believe the stadium could be the Mecca of cricket in North America," Sennik said. "The Twenty20 concept is tailor-made for Canada and the United States."
The support of the official cricket body of Canada, a participant in the last two ICC World Cups, is seen as crucial as CCUSA looks to establish itself and its tournaments, funded by the millionaire local businessman, Mahammad "MAQ" Qureshi.
Former Test captains Javed Miandad, Mohammad Azharuddin and Richie Richardson will get the ball rolling by leading respective All-Star sides later this month. But while the big three have unquestioned drawing power within the expatriate community, it remains to be seen if they'll still be able to produce the high quality of cricket fitting for a captive, new market. Rowe will be linking up in the West Indies All-Stars with Richardson and other former internationals including Ricardo Powell, Philo Wallace, Stuart Williams, Franklyn Rose and Courtney Browne.
|These will be the first cricket matches at Central Broward, an all-purpose stadium that was opened in November last year. Built on land once zoned for industrial use, the stadium is simply known as Main Event Field. It sits inside a larger park that also contains two artificial turf fields, tennis and basketball courts plus an aquatic centre with pools and slides|
Rowe settled in the United States in 1983 after leading a West Indies squad on a rebel tour of South Africa. He left his native Jamaica when the nation's Minister for Sport said he couldn't guarantee the rebels' safety on their return home.
Having observed the many fits and starts of US cricket over the past 25 years, did Rowe ever think he would ever see the completion of a venue like the one being described as North America's first, custom-built, cricket stadium? "I always thought it would happen some day," he says. "Some things still need to be put right but it should be OK."
In the popular 1989 Hollywood movie, 'Field of Dreams', Kevin Costner plays Ray, an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field over his corn crops after hearing a voice in his head so that famous former players like "Shoeless" Joe Jackson could come back to play.
Now the likes of Azharuddin, Miandad and Richardson - plus the enigmatic Rowe - will be gathering to make unlikely appearances at the cricketing equivalent in suburban south Florida.
"If you build it, they will come", the voice told Ray before he constructed his celestial baseball diamond in 'Field of Dreams'. It could also be the motto at the start of a surprising new chapter in American cricket.
Jason Dasey ( www.jasondasey.com ) is a host of Cricinfo SportsCenter and two international editions of SportsCenter on ESPN