Friday, May 21, 2010

Cricket Comes to USA

Sri Lanka and New Zealand will stage the first cricket matches on US soil between two ICC full members, a move officials hope will launch a US boom for the sport.

Saturday and Sunday afternoon matches will be staged at Lauderhill's Central Broward Regional Park, the only ICC-approved venue in the United States.

But it’s often forgotten that the first recognized international match was actually played in Staten Island, N.Y., nearly 170 years ago.

The game returns to the U.S. this weekend, this time with colored clothing and a much shorter format, as New Zealand plays Sri Lanka in two international T20 games in Lauderhill, Fla.

The 20,000-capacity facility, which must still upgrade lighting to ICC standards in order to host night events, tried in vain to land a match ahead of the 2007 West Indies Cricket World Cup.

But with an India property developer sponsoring the Pearls Cup T20 matches and Indian Premier League officials talking about staging US events as early as 2011, the US breakthrough could be only a hint of greater things to come.

A 2009 study conducted by Columbia University estimated there were 15 million cricket fans in the U.S. and 200,000 who play recreationally, according to Don Lockerbie, chief executive of the USA Cricket Association. Cricket in the U.S. was also the subject of a critically acclaimed recent novel, “Netherland,” by Joseph O’Neill.

But only a small fraction of cricket fans in the U.S. actually follow cricket that’s played in their homeland. An overwhelming majority are expatriates eagerly tracking the performance of their mother country.

Cricket’s experiments with globalization aren’t new. India and Pakistan played an annual series in Toronto for three years in the mid-’90s and there have been games in Morocco, Singapore, Netherlands and other nontraditional venues.

The most famous neutral venue is the United Arab Emirates — so popular that a stadium there has staged more one-day international games than any other.
It is hoped that the T20 format heralds a change. Over the last few years, the three-hour spectacle has gripped cricket’s main centers — India usually comes to a standstill during the Indian Premier League season — but T20’s most important contribution may lie in extending cricket’s boundaries and drawing outsiders in.

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