They came from downtown, from suburbs like Carmel to the north and Franklin to the south. They came from beyond the city limits - Bloomington, an hour to the south, or Goshen, three hours north, and South Bend. They came from farther afield, from cities in border states like Cincinnati, Ohio and Grand Rapids, Michigan, all to watch cricket being played in the land of the Hoosier, at Indianapolis World Sports Park (IWSP).
Phil Mielke drove five hours, solo, from Madison, Wisconsin. All he wanted to do was to see USA play in person. "I want to just root for the home team," he said. The 47-year-old contractor arrived with a Green Bay Packers foldout lawn chair tucked under his arm, just in time to see USA take on Canada at the brand new $5 million facility.
Mielke discovered cricket in Paris more than a decade ago. Of the few English language channels available in his hotel room, one of them had cricket. By fate, he took a liking to the game and in particular to following the USA national team.
He had passed up drives to Toronto in the past to watch USA play Canada in the Auty Cup, but with two World T20 Qualifier spots up for grabs at the ICC Americas T20 regional qualifier, he was spurred to get into his car for a half-day drive. Upon arrival he made himself a front row seat, hugging the western boundary, with his Packers chair.
"To see the US team was definitely the main goal but also the fact that qualifying for the World T20 Qualifier was on the line [interested me]," Mielke said. "The whole idea of Associate cricket is very interesting. I kind of have a soft spot for the little guy, especially when there are ODIs between Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland against the big guys, and the USA is the ultimate underdog when it comes to Associate cricket."
Mielke was just one of many diehards who surfaced during the week. A mother and son made a seven-hour trek from the small town of Ava, Missouri, population 2993.
A retiree named Barry Shanks drove eight hours from Staunton, Virginia, because "14 hours in a car to the stadium in Florida is just too much for a guy my age" - a reference to the Broward Park Stadium in Lauderhill, more of which later.
It's hard to find excuses not to hop in a car or on a plane and head to south Florida. But since the CBRP's opening in 2008, all anyone hears at cricket events there is crickets
Though Shanks and Mielke could only make it to one or two matches of the event due to the distance, others came in every day. An older gentleman named Dan, from Bloomington, booked a hotel room in Indianapolis and stayed the entire week, showing up each morning an hour before play began to watch the players warm up.
Most days he parked his lawn chair next to the sightscreen at the south end, shifting to the left of the scaffolding or the right depending on the angle of the sun. On the final day, when it was slightly chilly, he sported a bright red sweatshirt with "USA CRICKET" printed on it in white block letters.
The total attendance for the week at IWSP didn't exceed 1000 - nothing fancy in the grand scheme of things. At places like Lord's or the MCG, that kind of crowd for an international match would cause alarm bells to sound in administrative meetings. In American cricket, though, it is very special, considering what had traditionally occurred at USA-hosted ICC events before May 3, 2015.
The Central Broward Regional Park (CBRP) in Florida, the godfather of international-standard cricket facilities in the USA, was funded with $70 million in Broward County municipal bonds. Lauderhill Mayor Richard Kaplan loves the sport and has plenty of cricket memorabilia in his office to show for it. The area has a thriving South Asian and West Indian expat community known for their cricket passion.
The stadium has 5000 permanent chairback seats and an overall capacity for 20,000 people. It lies in the suburban area of two cities historically regarded as party central for spring breakers, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and just six miles away lies a never-ending stretch of beaches along Florida state route A1A. It's hard to find excuses not to hop in a car or on a plane and head to south Florida.
Yet year after year since its opening in 2008, all anyone hears at cricket event after cricket event at the CBRP is crickets. Sixes hit toward the south stand at the pavilion end dive into a deep blue sea of empty seats. The clanging thud on splashdown echoes for a few brief moments, an ever-present reminder that almost no one barring family members bothers to turn up at the only ICC-certified ODI facility in the country to support the USA team. Not during their undefeated run to the ICC Americas men's title in 2008 and 2013, or the Under-19 title in 2011, or the USA women's runners-up performance in 2009.
Indianapolis may not be as glamorous as the beaches of south Florida, but the city embraces its niche as the "amateur sports capital of the world". In the American context, cricket fits under that umbrella, and locals showed that the city's nickname is well deserved by supporting USA at IWSP. There were scattered expats here and there who showed up from day to day but the majority of the those who entered IWSP for the first time were either curious to see what all the fuss was about over $5 million of their taxpayer funds, or were genuine fans of USA cricket.
Landyn Rookard, a 22-year-old Indiana University law student originally from Wenatchee, Washington, made the hour-long drive from Bloomington for two days of the event. Rookard got into cricket while travelling in England in 2010, and had his interest in the sport piqued by the Pakistan spot-fixing scandal. Since then, his viewing enjoyment had been limited to matches on TV, but he became aware of the ICC Americas event by following regional cricket news on social media.
"This was a chance to watch cricket in person at a high level for the first time for me," Rookard said. "There's not a whole lot going on in the United States, unfortunately for cricket. To me this is something to build on for Indianapolis and this facility. If they could somehow get some higher-level matches out here, that would actually draw a crowd that they could build up, and maybe put in some temporary bleachers - it seems like this is the place to do it. It really could draw the community in and there seems to be, from what I've seen here, an appetite for it."
One of the most fascinating aspects about the fans who attended was the wide disparity in demographics. There were just about an equal number of men and women, little kids and teenagers, and senior citizens who came in the middle of the week with no jobs to tie them down anymore and all the time in the world to learn a new sport as they grow old. Many locals came simply because they heard it was a World Cup qualifying tournament and that enticed them to read the rules and come watch USA.
For those newer fans, a source of occasional frustration was the general lack of information on site about what was going on in the middle. The manual scoreboard on the western boundary faced the players in the middle, not the fans sitting outside the rope. Few people knew which team was ahead at various stages of the game, unless they had the official scorer's app on their phones.
Most American sports feature an event programme with roster information, including players' jersey numbers, but that was nonexistent in Indianapolis. One woman was determined enough to learn the players' names and shirt numbers by writing them down on a piece of paper whenever they ran by her while fielding along the boundary, until she got all 11. Despite the informational obstacles presented, fans were resourceful and willing to get past them to keep watching and support players.
Almost everyone polled informally at the Indianapolis ground said they wouldn't hesitate to return, and most would have gladly paid $10-15 for a general admission ticket
The only thing that seemed to suck fans away from the ground wasn't boredom but rather the lack of customary amenities, including food and bleachers. An Indian-food vendor truck showed up briefly on Friday, the fifth day of the tournament, but didn't come back on Saturday for the final day, which also was the largest crowd of the week. If people got hungry, their nearest refuge was a McDonald's and a Subway located in a gas-station plaza two miles away.
Almost everyone polled informally at the ground said they wouldn't hesitate to return, and most would have gladly paid $10-15 for a general admission ticket, even though entry all week was free. The more dedicated folks, like Virginia resident Shanks, said they'd have paid as much as $100 to watch USA play in Indianapolis.
"I drove here eight hours to watch them, didn't I?" he said with a big grin. Shanks did his best to liven up the atmosphere on the days he was there, cheering every USA wicket, four and six. "Taylor, Taylor, he's our man. If he can't do it, no one can!" could be heard after big shots from USA's wicketkeeper, and "Nobody fields better than USA!" after an Adil Bhatti run-out.
Given the chance to watch USA again at the IWSP, increasing number of people from near and far like Shanks are sure to show up. The burning question is when their chance will come again. Mielke concedes the biggest challenge following the USA team is the scarcity of matches. Before this month, USA's last matches on home soil were in March 2013, and their last fixtures of any kind were six months earlier in Malaysia.
The ICC Americas T20 Division One won't be played again for at least another two years, and a flexible rotational hosting policy means Indianapolis has to contend not only with Florida but Bermuda and Canada as well.
Most people who came out got enough of a taste of seeing USA and the IWSP ground itself to want to come back sooner rather than later. "Indianapolis is really starting to bill itself as more of an international sports hub in the Midwest," Rookard said. "Obviously there needs to be more international cricket if it's going to have any staying power here. We need a domestic board that is going to be willing to build the sport at venues like this and then hopefully more will follow."