Ganeshbabu Venkat | 11:58pm gmt 26 Jul 2012
166 years after the first international cricket match was played between the USA and Canada in the USA, international cricket returned to where it all started in the year 2010. New Zealand played Sri Lanka in a two match T20 series at Lauderhill, Florida. That was also accompanied by the US national team playing the Jamaican team and this was billed as a gala event. However as it turned out the venture was an exercise in futility, the quality of the pitches were poor, there were roughly 5000 people in the stands and there was not much return for the money that was being spent. At that point, the cynic in me had given up that cricket would ever have a chance in the US. However this last month all that was changed when West Indies played New Zealand in a two match T20 series at the same venue. Not only was this the first official ICC sanctioned FTP tour, it was also the start of a series between two established Test playing nations. Of course New Zealand Cricket's partnership with USACA and the WICB's acceptance to host these games in Lauderhill made it possible.
Not only were these games a big hit but certainly renewed the optimism that there is indeed a place for cricket in the American sporting landscape. The stadium was filled to capacity on both days, people were scrambling for tickets and people were in fact clamoring to get into the ground. The crowd was an interesting mix with the majority being expat West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis who live in the Miami and the Fort Lauderdale area. There were couple of Kiwi Supporters who were holidaying here and some curious Americans who wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. The Central Broward Regional Park is by no means a SCG or a Kensington Oval, but it is an adequate ground with decent facilities and accessibility.
All the fears of a low scoring contest were alleviated when Dwyane Smith thumped the first ball of the series for a huge six. Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard made merry, although the games were a no-contest with the Black Caps failing miserably. The party atmosphere and the public reception to the games were excellent. At one point the crowd resembled a typical Caribbean crowd with conch shells blowing, steel pans going and drinks pouring non-stop in the party stand.
I had the good fortune not to only to cover the games on behalf of Cricket Web but also got to talk with some local folks, journalists and administrators who were encouraged by the support they got for these two games from the public. The personnel I met radically changed my views about cricket and America. One such interesting character was Peter Della Penna, with his Crocodile Dundee hat you will easily mistake him for an Aussie or a Kiwi however he is a born and breed American who was covering the games for CricInfo and it was a great pleasure talking cricket to him. He broke the stereotypes and prejudices associated with Americans and cricket.
In his own words he describes his love affair with cricket "When I arrived in Australia for the first time in 2005 and picked up a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald with the front-page headline "Bloody hell - These Poms Mean Business, I wanted to keep up with the game and as it turned out I witnessed the greatest ever Test match during that Ashes series at Edgbaston and became obsessed with cricket right away" he said. Having followed American cricket from very close quarters he felt that USACA as an organization needs to improve by leaps and bounds to take cricket to the grass root levels, However he was of the opinion that cricket can survive as a niche sport that will attract the American public in the long run for there is too much similarity with baseball.
Most of the West Indian fans who had come from all parts of the United States had a jolly good time and admitted that if there was India or Pakistan instead of New Zealand, the atmosphere would have been even more electric and the contests would have been fulfilling too. No offense to the Black Caps, but they were a very poor outfit. There is no doubt that cricket cannot compete with the likes of NFL, MLB, NBA or even NHL for that matter. However cricket is a very simple sport, especially the T20 format and can hold it's own. It was a shame that no American channel televised these two games live. If the likes of bowling, hot dog eating and equestrian sports can have a slot allotted to them in the sports channels, this game should have been televised live.
After these two games there is renewed hope that cricket can penetrate the American market. Who would take the initiative and how could it be done is the million dollar question. USACA as a responsible organization should leave their internal squabbles and develop a relationship with the other boards to bring cricket to America on a regular basis. At least that would be a good start. After all isn't America's favorite pass time another sport which has a bat and a ball and all they do is throw ball and hit ball.