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Artificial pitches planned for USA T20

Peter Della Penna

October 5, 2012

Comments: 27 | Text size: A | A

Central Broward Regional Park Stadium
The Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida is the only ICC-approved turf wicket in America © International Cricket Council
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The organisers behind a professional Twenty20 league in the USA, which is targeted to be launched next summer, are planning to stage matches on artificial wickets.

Currently the only ICC-approved ODI standard natural turf wicket in the United States is the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida. According to Cricket Holdings America chief executive Neil Maxwell, using artificial pitches will open the door to play matches in a number of cities and markets beyond south Florida.

"I think one of the fundamental areas that has held people back historically is the concept of playing cricket on turf pitches," Maxwell told ESPNcricinfo. "I think from our perspective, we've got far greater flexibility because we're going to play on artificial surfaces predominantly for the Twenty20 game and that gives us a broader spectrum of potential venues and sites that we can use."

With the lack of cricketing infrastructure in the United States, spending money to construct new turf wicket stadiums would require significant investment in an unproven market. The league's first season is tentatively set to take place over three to four weeks in June and July of 2013 and the cost to maintain a turf facility if left unused for 11 months could also prove to be expensive and inefficient. Maxwell says artificial pitches are a better option to get the league underway.

"The biggest hurdle to try and stage major cricket matches is the cost and ongoing maintenance of turf pitches," Maxwell said. "For the Twenty20 product where really you're coming to see the ball struck to the boundary as often as possible, the bowlers are given some encouragement, but the main thing is going to be regular bounce and give them player safety and we think that's going to be the best solution for it. The advancement in technology of these things is phenomenal, even in the last five years."

In June, West Indies made their highest score in Twenty20 Internationals when they posted 209 for 2 against New Zealand on a placid wicket in Florida. The innings featured explosive shot-making from Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, the kind that may be appealing to the casual American sports fan as well as the hardcore cricket fan. However, there are still lingering memories in Lauderhill of the dreadful pitch produced in 2010 which resulted in first innings totals of 120 for 7 and 81 all out when Sri Lanka took on New Zealand. Maxwell says it isn't worth the risk to invest in turf pitches because if they aren't prepared and maintained properly, it could have a dramatically negative effect on the on-field product.

"I think cricket needs to have a look at itself," Maxwell said. "We've got a 200-year-old product that's based around something 200 years ago. A lot of major sports have moved to artificial surfaces. I think the beauty of the United States is that we're starting with a blank canvas pretty much in respect to cricket history and tradition. Yes, we acknowledge the first internationals in 1844, but when you're looking at a contemporary product of Twenty20 cricket we're starting with a blank canvas. We have a reasonably well-educated core market, but it's a small market. What we want to do is broaden this game to mainstream America as quickly as possible.

"We can either approach that from a traditionalist's point of view and invest millions of dollars into turf pitches and then try and guarantee that they're going to be at the appropriate level for every game. Or we can go with a product that will allow the game to expand and develop within the country quickly because you'll be able to provide pitches at a fraction of the cost to the market that might want to choose to play cricket. I think artificial pitches will become the norm for Twenty20 cricket in 10-15 years."

Reports have suggested that Cricket Holdings America is looking to have at least two of the league's original six franchises to be based in New York and San Francisco. With sizeable South Asian and West Indian immigrant populations to tap into, those communities will be key to having good attendance figures at matches but Maxwell hopes to draw in other spectators by creating a vibrant atmosphere inside the stadium beyond the action out in the middle.

"This is very much about entertainment," Maxwell said. "This is about finding a way to appeal to mainstream America which might not be specifically through the game of cricket but through an entertainment product that will be exciting to a broad market segment."

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by roboh on (October 7, 2012, 22:36 GMT)

I see artificial pitches as a necessary evil in getting the T20 league off the ground. The cost of establishing turf pitches in decent venues would be crippling. Hopefully, if the league survives a few years, turf pitches can start to be introduced.

Posted by DavidNorman99 on (October 6, 2012, 17:28 GMT)

As someone who plays club cricket on an artificial wicket, the problems with it have nothing to do with how it plays for batting. Because the pitch is artificial, you cannot wear spikes on it. If you did, you would tear and ruin it when you slid on it (e.g. as your feet land when bowling). If they made it strong enough that it doesn't tear if you wear spikes, you would instead tear your ankle ligaments if you landed wrongly and your caught. And if your spikes couldn't catch on it, it would be too slippery to bowl on. Because you can't wear spikes when bowling, if the outfield is damp, you have problems with sliding when fielding, which is likely to cause leg/groin injuries as your feet go from under you. Which leaves the only other option of changing boots at the start/end of every bowling spell (and not running too hard around the outfield when fielding during your spell). It won't replace turf wickets until they make an artificial pitch which can be torn and can then repair itself.

Posted by SnowSnake on (October 6, 2012, 16:53 GMT)

Cricket is OK game, but given a choice between NFL, NBA, NHL and cricket; I would never watch cricket. I don't consider it professional game to be accepted in the USA. With or without technology, LBW decisions will always remain controversial. For that reason alone, I will never care too much for cricket. It is just not meant for America. Besides, any sport controlled by non-American body is not acceptable for Americans. Americans want total control of both power and revenues.

Posted by   on (October 6, 2012, 5:23 GMT)

A twenty20 cricket league can easily work in the US if it's done correctly (and proper investments are made). We already have a big enough base of hardcore fans and contribute the 2nd most TV revenues to ICC (only India does better). If even a small percent of the 300 million Americans become casual cricket fans over time (which can be accomplished by putting the games on free/cable TV regularly), this nation will be a force to recon with in the cricketing world.

Posted by silly_mid_on on (October 6, 2012, 5:15 GMT)

All cricket should be played on artificial surfaces, from junior games right up to test matches on the same surface around the world. Surely a pitch could be built that replicates a perfect cricket surface, and remains fair to everyone throughout the game. The continuing use of turf pitches is the great inconsistency of cricket. Get rid of them. Why do you think India are good at home but hopeless in Australia? Why does the team batting first in an Adelaide test score 600 and the team batting last scores 120?

Posted by smudgeon on (October 6, 2012, 5:04 GMT)

timmyj, I think to a certain degree, they will be relying on expat south-Asian and West Indian crowds to form the bulk of the crowds. I'm sure a well-timed marketing campaign emphasising the slam-bang aspects of T20 will be their best bet to interest cricket-novices.

Posted by   on (October 6, 2012, 4:48 GMT)

People here in USA does not like to compete at international level. They prefer college boys playing American Football more that also at state level. I don't think that Americans will gonna like cricket over their style of Football.

Posted by   on (October 6, 2012, 3:02 GMT)

Can international matches be played on artificial pitches ?

Posted by timmyj on (October 6, 2012, 2:26 GMT)

Everyone knew from start CHA would have to go with artificial pitches. This, however, is a minor issure. What grounds are they using? And then there's the only question that matters: how do you get Americans out to the games, whatever the pitch is, and how are they going to understand what they're watching. I want answers to these questions.

Posted by   on (October 6, 2012, 1:32 GMT)

Ok so what they are saying is that they are not sure if it will be financially beneficial to maintain a cricket pitch that will only be used for two months out of the year. They want to test the market out first to see if it will become financially feasible for the sport. I think that after a few seasons and once the sponsors step in we should hopefully see this change. Having a turf pitch is part of the game.They have only one turf pitch that the ICC has approved for T20 games and we know that pitch hasn't held up well in the past either. Going forward they should look at someone like Les Burdett one of the worlds best ground curators to help them set up and maintain the new pitches. He's experience of 41years is next to none. But once again we see the ignorance of America trying to change things to suit their needs. I think its great for the sport that we branch out into the U.S market but to change it to suit them is something that I will not approve of.

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