Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna
Since the turn of the millennium, cricket facilities have sprouted up in some unusual places around America and generated widespread acclaim. Lauderhill, Florida (the home of USA's first ODI accredited stadium) and Morrisville, North Carolina (the host of the 2018 ICC Americas T20 World Cup Qualifier and the inaugural championship weekend in 2021 for Minor League T20 Cricket (MiLC) franchise event) have been at the forefront of USA's cricket revolution.
Though it may have been slightly more anonymous over the last decade, Pearland, Texas - a city of 130,000 people in Brazoria County located 22 miles south of downtown Houston - has been a part of that group too. But its low profile may be a thing of the past after USA Cricket announced on Friday that Pearland's Moosa Stadium will become USA's second ODI accredited venue, pending a final rubber stamp from the ICC later this month. It is there that USA will host Scotland and UAE from May 28 through June 4, and then Nepal and Oman from June 8 to June 15 for a total of 12 ODIs across a pair of Cricket World Cup League Two ODI tri-series.
"This is a dream come true for someone from Kamoke, Pakistan," Sakhi Muhammad, a Houston area businessman who is the owner and founder of Moosa Stadium, told ESPNcricinfo. "For people from small places, it doesn't matter where you're born, it matters what you want to do in life. If you keep yourself composed, you can get somewhere."
"When I go back for my father Moosa who I named this after, he was five years old when Partition happened and migrated from India. He got separated from his parents and was reunited with his mother after two years. I was 12 when he died. As a kid, you always want to do something with your father, but he died when he was 37 in an accident. What we wanted when we started was to bring some kind of reward for him and to bring his name on the world map. It's very satisfying and very emotional too at the same time."
Muhammad, 55, left Pakistan early in his adult life for a job in Dubai before marrying a Pakistani-American woman from Houston and moved there in 1996. He worked his way up as an employee at a Mitsubishi car dealership to the point where he bought three of his own car dealerships. Adapting to the Houston sports community, Muhammad was a longtime season-ticket holder of the NBA's Houston Rockets.
But Muhammad said he was spurred to go back to his cricket roots following the death of his mother in 2012. In 2013, his Smart Choice Auto Group became a sponsor of the USA men's national team, and a short time later he spent $2 million of his own money to secure 24 acres and begin constructing Moosa Stadium in a quiet farmland area on McKeever Road/County Road 100. By 2015, Canada became the first international touring side to Pearland ahead of the ICC Americas T20 World Cup Qualifier at Indianapolis in 2015.
By 2017, Moosa Stadium was regularly being used as the host site for USA men's national team training camps and selection trials, and also welcomed former England captain Charlotte Edwards for a training camp with the USA women that same year. But the facility had a setback in June 2018 during a USA national team selection camp. Six days of consistent rain exposed a poor drainage system at the facility. Though the rain stopped in the days leading up to the camp, the field was still waterlogged on the first two days of the four-day trial, rendering it unplayable. It was a wakeup call to Muhammad that further investment needed to be made to rectify the issue.
"There were a couple of broken pipes, which if you don't fix, it doesn't help," Muhammad said. "We knew it needed sand work. But when Sam [Plummer, Moosa Stadium's curator] left, the guy who came temporarily to replace him, he had no idea. He used a lawnmower to push away the water. If you use a lawnmower, you make it muddier."
Plummer is regarded by many as the most experienced cricket pitch curator in America. Prior to coming to the USA, the Jamaica native worked as a pitch curator at Chedwin Park, a first-class ground in Jamaica. His reputation grew in American cricket circles after Plummer orchestrated a dramatic turnaround in consistent standards at Broward County Stadium in Lauderhill, where he began working in 2011.
Before Plummer's arrival in Lauderhill, scraping past 100 for a team total was a challenge and the first T20Is on American soil resulted in ugly cricket played between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in 2010. But after Plummer was hired to take charge of the pitches at Lauderhill ahead of the West Indies first visit in 2012, the reputation of the venue changed virtually overnight from a batting graveyard to a T20 scoring paradise where 200 became a par score.
Plummer was lured away from Lauderhill to Pearland by Muhammad in 2014 but left a few years later for another brief stint in Lauderhill before being recruited back following the 2018 USA trial debacle in Pearland. True to his reputation, Plummer has once again begun producing high scoring tracks at Moosa. The best evidence of that came in the MiLC playoff quarterfinal last September when former India U-19 captain Unmukt Chand blasted an unbeaten 132 off 69 balls to help the eventual champion Silicon Valley Strikers chase down a target of 185. Plummer has continued working around the clock in recent months to ensure the wickets, outfields and drainage at Moosa Stadium are in pristine condition.
"When Sam came back, we realized we needed to do a lot of sand work," Muhammad said. "Last year after MiLC, we brought in 100 truck loads of sand and we kept doing aeration to keep on improving it. That has really helped us. I believe if Sam was there [in 2018] and he knew the problem, it would have not been made worse."
Moosa Stadium was in competition to secure hosting rights for the pair of USA's upcoming ODI series with Prairie View Cricket Complex, a much larger venue with four turf pitch fields that opened in 2018 located 50 miles northwest of downtown Houston. Though Prairie View is larger and ideal for staging events with four or more teams in order to play matches simultaneously, it currently lacks adequate infrastructure beyond the boundary rope necessary for hosting international teams.
By contrast, Moosa Stadium has a pavilion with change rooms that include showers and ice bath recovery facilities, covered nets as well as permanent broadcast facilities. Combine all of that with Plummer's reputation for producing consistent wickets and that gave Moosa Stadium the edge over Prairie View for hosting the upcoming ODIs.
"I always believed that if we want the youth of America to come, those who go to the NBA games and other very well-built structures, they're used to certain standards," Muhammad said. "If you want them to have any interest, you have to build something acceptable to their standards. That was one of the reasons we wanted to build all those things. Last year before MiLC, we put in fiber-optic cables all the way around. It means you can hook up any number of cameras now for any international game and it saves money. When we ran an event in 2016, we had to spend $45,000 just in rentals and it's not practical. It was important to add it for broadcasting because without it, it becomes hard to broadcast or live stream."
All of the recent upgrades that helped Moosa Stadium secure ODI status also makes the venue a strong candidate to be assigned matches at the 2024 Men's T20 World Cup that USA is co-hosting with the West Indies. The facility has permanent seating for 6,000 people that can be expanded for up to 20,000 with temporary bleachers. But capacity will be temporarily capped at 2,500 for the upcoming ODIs due to municipal permit logistics. Muhammad also owns another 38 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to the current 24-acre location of Moosa Stadium that he has designated to be converted into parking lot space for large scale events.
"What we plan to do in the next 12 months, put in bleachers and more parking and additional stuff for the T20 World Cup, I think Pearland will be put on the world map as more cricket comes and it will help Pearland and Brazoria County," Muhammad said. "If you look at the other major sports, the [NFL] Texans and [NBA] Rockets and MLS soccer, they are all about 14-18 miles away and are very close. Having cricket in the mix with those sports and close to downtown will help Pearland overall.
"When I was first building it, people told me I was crazy. But I believed it would happen. When I started building in 2013, nobody knew Houston [cricket] back then. Everyone knew about Woodley Park in California. But Moosa has really changed the cricket future. Especially now after Prairie View has come in, Houston has so much to offer as a cricket center."