The Caribbean Premier League's initial foray into the USA kicked off on Friday with the arrival of Jamaica Tallawahs at Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, six days ahead of the first CPL games to be played in the USA. Tallawahs wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara, who captained Sri Lanka in the first Twenty20 International played in the USA at the same facility in 2010, has said the CPL could help the growth of cricket in USA.
"It's very exciting to be back," Sangakkara said at the Tallawahs first press conference in Lauderhill on Friday. "I remember when we played New Zealand here in 2010, [it was] two very competitive games and I think it finished one-all and we enjoyed our time here.
"To bring cricket back to Fort Lauderdale, to be here at Broward Park to play again is just about making sure the game is exposed to new viewership, to encourage new spectators to come and watch what happens on a cricket field, to watch the differences between cricket and baseball and to hopefully better understand it and hopefully grow to like it enough to actually experiment playing it."
The first experience for Sangakkara did not provide the fireworks that were billed to new fans, with scores under 100 in three of four innings, and a total of four sixes hit during the two games. Two years later, West Indies posted 209 for 2 against new Zealand, a record total at the time.
However, it has been four years since high-level cricket has been played at the facility. In its absence, soccer has been a primary tenant, resulting in the square being dug up and relaid. New Zealand curator Mark Perham has been brought in to work on the pitches.
"The pitch looks pretty good and by the reports that we hear over the years there's been a lot of improvement done," Sangakkara said. "A new curator has been doing a lot of hard work trying to get it up to standard and by the scores of the subsequent matches played after we were here it seems all pretty good.
"We hope that the crowds do come in and the ordinary American comes in and has a look to see what it's all about. It could be just a case of curiosity, or it could be that they've heard of it before or watched it on TV once or twice maybe but crowd participation is absolutely important to any sport. It's absolutely vital. That's what the players play for, to play in front of a packed stadium, having kids and families come and watch. That's what I think drives us or any sport higher."
Sangakkara toured the USA in November last year as part of the Cricket All-Stars series. The largest crowd of the three games featured 27,000 people at Citi Field in New York City. Although the Central Broward Regional Park has a capacity of 10,000, Sangakkara said it will be as good for the fans due to the facility being designed for cricket.
"Either way it's got to be entertaining," Sangakkara said. "Whether it's 10,000 in a small stadium where it feels as if it's a much larger crowd because it gets noisier and the atmosphere is a little more intense. In baseball stadiums we played in, there were a huge amount of people there but they were far removed from the action because of how the stadium is configured. Either way I think it's all about getting smiles on their faces, making sure that when they walk away after three and a half hours they walk away with good memories."