West Indies v New Zealand, 1st Twenty20, Florida

Smith's six sets the tone for cricket in America

Dwayne Smith's first-ball six on Saturday helped erase bad memories of the previous time two Full Members played in Lauderhill, and may spur on the creation of many more moments like it across the USA

Peter Della Penna in Lauderhill

July 1, 2012

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A West Indies supporter holds up a poster, West Indies v New Zealand, 1st Twenty20, Florida, June 30, 2012
The thousands of West Indies fans in attendance got their money's worth through the likes of Dwayne Smith, Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard © AFP
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In a single moment at the start of the USA's second attempt to host international Twenty20 cricket between two Full Members, a rich blend of sounds and emotions could be witnessed across the ground that summed up everything the occasion was about.

There was the sweet crack of bat on ball, heard emanating from the middle, courtesy Dwayne Smith. The West Indies opener had generated an effortless flourish of the bat to send the first delivery of the match from offspinner Nathan McCullum over the long-off rope for six, the ball smoothly sailing away like one of the many yachts in the harbour of nearby Fort Lauderdale.

There was a delightful roar let loose by the thousands of West Indies fans in attendance. They had forked over their hard-earned cash for tickets and packed into the Central Broward Regional Park to be entertained by their heroes. Smith, Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard paid them back time and again over the course of the day with six after glorious six until eventually 12 had been struck in a record-setting performance by West Indies - the total of 209 for 2 is their best in Twenty20 internationals.

There were a few gulps from New Zealand's fielders. After winning the toss, New Zealand elected to give West Indies first strike. With a flat track and short boundaries, it became apparent that they might be fetching the ball from over the rope early and often.

There was a also possibly a sigh of relief let out by the West Indies Cricket Board, who took a decent-sized gamble by agreeing to stage games in Florida. It would have been very easy for any Full Member to cast away any ambition to hold major international cricket in Lauderhill after the all-round debacle of the pair of matches between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in 2010. Instead, local officials persevered to right some of the wrongs from that experience. Smith's first-ball six was a harbinger for the stream of runs that became a deluge, helping make Saturday's match a success.

There was the "ka-ching" of cash registers passing through the minds of New Zealand Cricket and USA Cricket Association administrators. Even though NZC's representative side was in the early stages of receiving a heavy shellacking, the suits probably wouldn't have minded being on the wrong end of Saturday's result if high scores are what will convince investors to buy into the proposed Twenty20 league set up by Cricket Holdings America (CHA) - the joint entity formed by NZC and USACA to develop a professional Twenty20 competition in the USA. CHA board member Neil Maxwell is in Lauderhill this weekend and there's no doubt his job just became a little bit easier in persuading people to jump on board.

There was the wide smile on the face of Samuel Plummer. Smith's first-ball six was an "I told you so" response to anyone who doubted this pitch would have runs in it for batsmen this weekend. Plummer is the groundsman who was brought in here two years ago to breathe life into a dead track. Plummer spoke and carried himself with a quiet confidence all week. His prediction of either team scoring in the neighborhood of 170 might have sounded quite optimistic to some. In the end, it was quite conservative.

 
 
Saturday was a step in the right direction for those whose mission it is to make cricket a viable business not only in Florida, but in the USA
 

Outside the stadium and halfway around the world, there was the nod of approval from the ICC. Cricket's governing body has been looking, for a long time, to carve out a market for the game in the USA. Images from Saturday's game of fans waving the flags of Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana, with the threads of the stars and stripes in the background, will probably soon be making their way very into PowerPoint presentations and promotional videos produced in Dubai.

When weighed up against the matches in Lauderhill from two years ago, this was a day with plenty of positives. However, there were still a few teething problems on display that need sorting out.

The outfield was somewhat treacherous in certain areas. Around and near the square, the surface was unforgiving to those making a crash landing after attempting to leap, dive or jump in an effort to field the ball. By contrast, the last few yards inside the rope were too soft and boundary riders ran the risk of getting stuck mid-slide. By the end of the day the outfield claimed three victims in Jacob Oram, Ross Taylor and Pollard, and normally aggressive pursuits of the ball by others soon turned tentative.

Entry to the stadium was also an issue. About one-third of fans who eventually made it into the ground missed the first few overs because of an inadequate number of entrance lanes leading into the stadium, which meant it took some fans an hour or more just to be able to park their cars.

The stadium also wasn't designed with media facilities in mind. In addition to the makeshift television set-up that had to be whipped up so that these matches could be broadcast to a worldwide audience, there weren't enough power outlets available at the start of the match for all the print journalists in attendance to plug in their computers and do their work. Considering the fact that only about a dozen or so reporters were in attendance to cover the game, and not all of them could be easily accommodated, that's a bit shocking. Officials are lucky there weren't 40 or 50 journalists at the ground.

On the whole though, the atmosphere that the stadium provided for fans was superb. Saturday was a step in the right direction for those whose mission it is to make cricket a viable business not only in Florida, but in the USA. Smith's first-ball six was a moment that may not only have set the tone for the rest of the weekend, but may spur on the creation of many more moments like it across America.

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Robster1 on (July 1, 2012, 20:46 GMT)

Surprised that the leading dedicated US cricket channel Willow TV, didn't cover these matches.

Posted by timmyj on (July 1, 2012, 19:16 GMT)

These matches are raising a lot of false expectations. The fact remains these matches, like 2010, have been almost totally ignored by the American public. Only one local TV station bothered to come out and it was poor coverage. Ditto with local papers. This turnout shouldn't have taken anyone by surprise (if India would play you'd get an even bigger turnout). BUT...BUT, unless you can find a way to connect with the American public all these Lauderhill matches are going to remain nothing but islands of ex-pat interest. And it's ludicrous to stage any first class cricket in America unless the prime objective is to take the game to Americans.

Posted by   on (July 1, 2012, 17:58 GMT)

It's interesting to note that the US has erected a cricket stadium at Lauderhill. I therefore wonder how come this same idea was not conceptualised by the cricketing heirachy in Canada, the only place in North America where the game of cricket has a moderate chance of surviving. Lets get real, they are loads of Indians (the people who control cricket now), Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Australians, Brits and of course many people of West Indian playing nations who make up the Canadian population. The same cannot be said of the United States cricketing world since Baseball, American football, Hockey and Basketball continue to dominate Sports in the US. If the powers that be cannot realise great financial gain from cricket at this stadium (which I doubt it will), then this stadium will be transformed into maybe a minor league baseball arena. Question to cricket fans!!!! Have you ever seen a cricket pitch anywhere in Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Italy or Germany?

Posted by kobler on (July 1, 2012, 17:02 GMT)

landl Americans are from a british heritage

Posted by landl47 on (July 1, 2012, 16:21 GMT)

It would be interesting to see what proportion of the crowd was not from a cricket-playing heritage. Cricket in the US won't go anywhere until Americans whose background isn't Caribbean or Asian get involved (I'm of British background and I can tell you that ex-patriot Brits wouldn't fill a high school stadium, let alone a proper arena). In order for Americans to begin to feel invested in the game, American players are going to have to be developed. It's a bit of a vicious circle, because American players won't develop unless Americans watch the game! Anyway, this does seem to have been a good start- now let's see if it goes anywhere.

Posted by MasudRUETeee091040 on (July 1, 2012, 16:12 GMT)

Smith's attacking play charms me much really.

Posted by Robster1 on (July 1, 2012, 15:46 GMT)

Pretty fair review of an enjoyable afternoon. Very decent atmosphere too with the large Caribbean community. The steel band playing superb, continual music on the boundary edge was an absolute joy. They mostly seemed to be playing on discarded car parts too. At the ground we estimated the crowd at 14,000. England v Windies at Lauderhill would be some occasion. And yes, it did take us a quite ridiculous 75 minutes just to park the car. Why oh why with a large crowd coming (10,000 tickets presold for each day) weren't there more entrances to the car park.

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