The Twenty20 revolution apparently knows no boundaries. Now cricket's hottest craze is poised to make inroads into one of the sport's most elusive frontiers, the United States.
Mohammad Azharuddin, Javed Miandad and Richie Richardson are the former Test captains who have agreed to take part in a privately-run, All-Star weekend in southern Florida in late May. The MAQ T20 International Cricket Tournament will combine three days of matches with ethnic musical concerts during the Memorial Day long weekend, May 23rd to 25th. It aims to attract 30,000 fans over three days to Central Broward Regional Park, a new cricket stadium, near Fort Lauderdale.
The event will be funded by Cricket Council USA (CCUSA), a non-sanctioned organisation with no affiliation to the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA), which was reinstated as an Associate Member of the ICC on April 1st after a one-year suspension.
CCUSA, with a couple of former USACA officials among a full-time staff of 12, is backed by Florida-based, Pakistani-born businessman, Mahammad "MAQ" Qureshi. With an office in Boca Raton, it says its aim is trying to spread the gospel of Twenty20 across America.
Tickets will range between just US$10 and $20, with free general admission for children on two of the three days. "Our ultimate goal is to get the local youngsters at high school level to try cricket as an alternative to baseball, basketball or American football," said Nino DiLoreto, Director of Media for CCUSA. "We're looking beyond the expatriate element to take Twenty20 to mainstream Americans."
With four teams competing for $75,000 in prize money, the Memorial Day tournament has attracted an impressive list of names from cricket's past and present.
The West Indies All-Star Team is managed by Lawrence Rowe - who, like one of his former international team-mates, Lance Gibbs - now lives in southern Florida. Richardson will have ex-Windies internationals Ricardo Powell, Stuart Williams, Franklyn Rose and Courtney Browne amongst his team-mates. Joining Miandad, 51, in the Pakistani All-Star side will be 20-somethings Mohammad Sami, Faisal Iqbal, Imran Nazir and Imran Farhat.
The timing of the IPL rules out a significant Indian contingent, so Mohammad Azharuddin will captain an International All-Star team that includes former Australian spinner Nathan Hauritz, Ireland's 2007 World Cup captain Trent Johnston and Brighton Watambwa, who played six Test matches for Zimbabwe in 2001-2002.
Canada will provide players for the fourth side and intends using the tournament as a warm-up for an upcoming qualifying round in Ireland for the 2011 Twenty20 World Cup.
"A Cricket Night to Remember" is the name of the concerts that will follow the first two days, featuring Caribbean and south Asian artists. The event is the first of four Twenty20 tournaments planned by CCUSA for 2008. On August 16th, the Azadi Cup will mark Indo-Pak Independence Day and will aim to attract some high profile subcontinental players to Central Broward Regional Park, recently completed and funded by public money at a cost of $71 million.
"It's the first purpose-built cricket stadium in the United States or Canada," declared Nino DiLoreto of CCUSA.
The diverse Broward County, a 30 minute drive north of Miami, is a unique, diverse pocket of the United States where cricket actually registers on the radar. Almost 4% of an estimated population of almost 2 million was born in Jamaica while there are also sizeable south Asian and British communities, many of whom subscribe to pay-per-view television to regularly watch international cricket. Broward County is the home to about 50 of the United States' 750 registered cricket clubs, who play in two leagues. It's estimated that the US has around 50,000 active players, making it the ninth largest cricket-playing country.
CCUSA is still recruiting for the tournament and hasn't given up hope of bringing another recent former Test captain to the impressive Central Broward Regional Park. "If he agrees to come, he'd be by far the tournament's biggest name," said Syed 'Bobby' Refaie, its president.
Refaie, a former USACA secretary, added that CCUSA wasn't trying to compete with the sport's official body. "But we're not waiting for USACA to bring the beautiful game of Twenty20 cricket to the American audience," he said. "We're hoping that we perhaps can join hands with USACA and work together in the future."