The approach along Indiana state Route 52 is highly inconspicuous. A few tractor supply equipment rental stations line the road to signal that you're in America's heartland. A private airport mainly used for model planes sits mostly dormant just across the street. The entrance on Post Road leading into the facility is a simple two-lane road with modest traffic.
It may not have all the bells and whistles of stadium seating and a two-tiered pavilion like the Central Broward Regional Park in Florida. It doesn't possess the wide expanse of four separate fields located at Woodley Park in Southern California. It doesn't even have a local league to support it with regular use.
Yet less than a year after it opened, Indianapolis World Sports Park has beaten the odds to host an ICC World T20 Qualifying tournament. Based on the facility's debut event, it won't be the last time a national or international event is played at the $5 million facility. Despite being three hours away from the nearest genuine US cricket enclave in Chicago, and much further afield from bigger pockets like New York, Dallas and San Francisco, it didn't take long for everyone involved at the ICC Americas Division One T20 to warm up to playing at the simple, yet impressive facility.
According to Mark Perham, a groundsman from New Zealand brought in as a consultant to work at IWSP for this tournament, the space's best feature is a world-class outfield including a Test-match-standard drainage system. Despite persistent rains on day three and day six, only seven overs of play were lost during the tournament compared to far more drastic reductions in play for wet weather at the Central Broward Regional Park in Florida.
"I think what they've done here is pretty outstanding really," Perham said. "It's a full sand carpet outfield which is pretty much the world's best standard practice for building outfields. The drainage is phenomenal. You'll never lose a game because of drainage here. That's for sure."
Two strips were used for the tournament, one for the first three days before shifting to a new pitch for the second half of the tournament. Though the ICC Americas Division One T20 featured consistently low scores - the average first innings total across 12 matches was 122 with only one score in excess of 150 - there were hardly any complaints about the quality of the pitch. The star batsmen from each squad - Bermuda's David Hemp, USA's Fahad Babar, Canada's Ruvindu Gunasekera - had few problems making scores. Perham had less than two weeks to get the ground ready after arriving from Auckland but was satisfied with the way the pitch played.
In addition to the main oval, the facility has six practice nets beyond the north-east boundary. Three are synthetic turf and three are natural but those were just seeded and were not ready for use during the tournament. There is also a secondary oval to use but is not approved for international play due to its synthetic wicket.
Most of the drawbacks of the facility relate to logistical aspects beyond the boundary. There is no pavilion so consequently there are no change rooms for the players, no permanent media facilities, no bleachers for fans to sit in and no concession stands or food vendors stationed inside the park. There are also no floodlights.
While Perham felt the standard of pitch and outfield was Test standard, it was obvious that most other aspects outside the ropes were makeshift accommodations that would only be suitable at amateur level. In order to host something like the West Indies vs New Zealand matches held in Florida in 2012, Indianapolis would need to invest significantly more in infrastructure at World Sports Park to attract revenue-generating events.
In the context of Indianapolis itself, the facility is also 20 minutes east of downtown whereas all the major sports venues - Lucas Oil Field, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Victory Field and Carroll Track & Soccer Stadium - are within a 12-block radius of each other right in the heart of the city. Driving to the facility feels like you are far away from the heartbeat of the city's sports action.
What the players said
"The facility here is excellent. I enjoy the field. It's very picturesque. It's in the middle of nowhere but it has a lot of space for a lot of people. It's a definite change from past tours. It was filled with Americans actually cheering for the USA team so it felt really special." USA batsman Nicholas Standford
"Facility-wise I think it's really good. I think the outfield is magnificent. All it probably needs is a clubhouse, a proper changing area, but apart from that I think it could be a really good venue so I'm really impressed with what I've seen." Bermuda batsman David Hemp
"It's a great facility. I believe there's no local cricket here in Indiana but it's a great facility to come to and play. It's great to have these facilities here and in Houston and cricket can only go up in this part of the world. USA is blessed with a lot of cricketing facilities all around. It's probably one of the better ones." Canada batsman Ruvindu Gunasekera
The way ahead
Being used regularly is the biggest obstacle facing IWSP. City officials and local residents still speak of USACA in hushed tones after the city and governing body ripped up an agreement last year that had been in place to host USACA's National T20 Tournament from 2014-2016. There is only one local cricket club in the city and rental fees, ranging from $560 for use of the synthetic field to more than $1,000 a day for the natural turf oval, make it untenable for regular use by the club.
The ICC Americas won't be staging another regional Division One tournament for at least two years and unless other investments are made to upgrade the site, it won't be desirable for hosting neutral site, Full Member cricket like the Central Broward Regional Park has done in the past. City officials have always stressed the multi-purpose nature of the facility, so as to avoid the trap the CBRP has fallen into of being purpose-built for cricket only to lie empty for the majority of the year.
"The approach we have taken with the World Sports Park has been to put world class playing conditions in," Andrew Stephens, senior marketing manager for Indy Parks and Recreation, said. "We need time to allow cricket to grow and build a following and for that demand to grow. You never want to build anything to just let it sit. It is flexible and even with other sports we continue to look at what we can do to keep it a world-class facility."
Perham still maintains hope that it will get more than sporadic cricket use to have a chance of becoming a premier cricket facility. Seeing how pristine the outfield looked and the pitch played over the course of the six days, it would be a shame if the rest of the facility never rises to that standard due to neglect.
"Personally I just think the more it can be used the better it'll become because that'll mean the local parks division will invest more money into it and maybe appoint a full-time curator and that's the best thing that can happen here," Perham said. "They need somebody who is cricket-orientated and can drive it and make sure the practice facilities are good and the pitch is good. I know there's not much of a local [league] competition but even if teams can come here for a training camp or things like that, it can only be a good thing."