US cricket October 4, 2009

Don't say India, say Indianapolis

Peter Della Penna
Indianapolis may be a cricket backwater - even by American standards - but there are ambitious plans to build a multi-million dollar cricket stadium there

Indianapolis, Indiana is nicknamed The Amateur Sports Capital of the World but plans are underway for the city to build a stadium to help bring professional cricket to America.

The USA Cricket Association (USACA) recently held a board meeting in Indianapolis, hosted by Mayor Gregory A Ballard, to discuss the possibility of having a dedicated cricket stadium built there.

"They want to build a cricket stadium over there and a cricket-village kind of thing," said Nabeel Ahmed, USACA's first vice-president. "We saw the location, the land where they want to build the stadium. We had a meeting with the parks and recreation department, where we gave them some ideas and they got some information from us and we got some information from them, and that's why we were there."

According to Stuart Lowry, Indy Parks and Recreation director, a plan was first discussed in 2004. Under Ballard, who came into office in 2008, the idea has gained significant momentum.

"Basically the concept is, it's about a 40-acre park property footprint," said Lowry. "What we're doing is looking at an international-complex concept, connecting with our sister cities around the world." The proposed site is at Post Road Community Park, on the southeast side of Marion County, about 14 miles outside of downtown, and will also contain four soccer fields. Based on initial plans, the cricket stadium's base capacity will have between 4000 and 8000 seats, but modular seating could be brought in to expand the seating capacity for more than double that. This will not include designated green space that can accommodate even more spectators.

"The stadium from our perspective will look like a regular stadium. But modulars can be taken in and out to expand and decrease the size depending on the event," Lowry said. According to another source from the office, the city is also interested in acquiring unused land adjacent to the park on the north and south perimeter that could be incorporated into the final design of the project.

One of the key parts of the design, though, will definitely be making sure that the ground is suitable for attracting televised coverage of matches. "On one end of the stadium we want to make sure we have luxury boxes and media suites. We need to make sure we have camera angles high enough to get behind the bowlers running in," said Lowry.

"The mayor is very much interested in cricket. He has watched IPL," Ahmed pointed out. "He went to South Africa and he's familiar with cricket and he thinks that with the history that Indianapolis has with sports - other sports like NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association headquarters] is there, Indy 500 is there, and track and field and all these kind of things in Indianapolis - he thinks that cricket is booming and that we might be able to have our headquarters in Indianapolis as well. He wants people from all over the world, millions of people from India and those countries, to watch cricket being played there in Indianapolis. He wants to build the first big stadium in the US after Fort Lauderdale."

One major difference between the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida and the proposed plan for Indianapolis is that the latter will be financed by private funding, whereas the US$70 million it cost to build the stadium in south Florida came from taxpayer dollars and bonds.

While Lowry doesn't know what the total project will cost, the city is looking to get it started sometime in the next six to eight months. How soon things get underway will depend on how long it takes for someone to step up to support the project with the necessary financial backing. "There's been a couple of companies very interested," he said. "I can't give specific names yet but one Fortune 500 company is very interested."

Even with a metro area population of 1.7 million people, Indianapolis isn't even a hamlet in the current landscape of US cricket. Cricket Club of Indianapolis is the city's only recognised club, and there are about 10-12 tennis-ball teams that play in Garfield Park, according to the club's President, Bala Krishnamurthy. Chicago, which lies three hours northwest, has five leagues and approximately 400 amateur teams.

The state of Indiana is dominated by a basketball culture, especially at the high-school and collegiate level. The NCAA offices are in Indianapolis. Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in 2008 and is home to the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, will host the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Final Four in 2010 and again in 2015.

However, the city does have a history of supporting non-traditional sports. In addition to the NCAA, Indianapolis is home to the headquarters of several other amateur sporting bodies, including USA Gymnastics and USA Track & Field. One of the city's biggest achievements was hosting the 1987 Pan American Games. Along with a growing South Asian community, Indianapolis is confident it has a strong foundation to establish the game of cricket and make it grow both locally and nationally.

"We actually have a pretty strong base of people from India and Pakistan," said Lowry. "I think the thing that's exciting about cricket is that it bridges communities, and ever since the '87 Pan-Am Games the local media has been very receptive to covering all kinds of different sports."

Peter Della Penna is a freelance journalist covering US cricket for Cricinfo