No grassroots but lots of scaffolding: a glimpse into New York’s cricket scene

<span>Indian fans at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium, which was built in New York at a cost of $30 million.  </span><span>Photo: Alex Davidson-ICC/ICC/Getty Images</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 515cd50aaf” data -src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 5cd50aaf”/ ><button class=

India fans at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium, which was built in New York at a cost of $30 million. Photo: Alex Davidson-ICC/ICC/Getty Images

Thirty million doesn’t go as far as you might hope in Manhattan, where it extends roughly to a single Chelsea penthouse. But on Long Island, where the ICC has spent its money, it has bought two weeks of exclusive use of all 1,000 hectares of Eisenhower Park, six scaffolding stands, two huge blocks of hospitality boxes, four drop-in cricket pitches, plenty of bars, restaurants and toilets for 37,000 people, and a pretzel stand. It’s an impressive setup, especially considering it was built in six months. But this is also the city where they managed to conquer the Empire State in one year and 45 days.

Aside from the up-and-down pitch, the opening match went so smoothly that by the time local police chief Patrick Ryder was on, his biggest concern was whether anyone would get heat stroke. ICC employees, meanwhile, were running around trying to solve a perennial American problem and find a decent cup of tea for those in the hospitality industry. The one thing no one had thought to lay on was a hot water urn.

The only problem is that the ICC is not only paying for facilities, but is also trying to get America’s attention. It wants to develop new markets. Currently, 85% of its revenue comes from India, and the country has identified the US as the best choice. What numbers. It already has an audience here among the South Asian diaspora, but as large as that group is, it’s still only 5.5 million people and they’re spread across an entire continent. Overall, the US market for TV sports rights is more than ten times that of India, but if the ICC wants to get a piece of that, it must prove that cricket is not just for immigrants.

That’s where the big match between India and Pakistan this Sunday comes into play. “We had no idea what to expect,” Ryder said, “but we were told it was like the Super Bowl on steroids.” It has to be the show that makes the locals sit up and take notice.

They haven’t done that yet. There was no advertising on the ground in Dallas, and in New York there is hardly any advertising. On Tuesday morning, the fan park at One World Trade Center was the only corner of Manhattan with tumbleweed blowing through. England were playing Scotland in Barbados, but the big screens were off and the room was empty apart from a bored security guard standing in front of a poster with a glossary of the sport printed on it. It explained that the word wicket in cricket is at the same time “a series of stumps and bails; the field/field; the dismissal of a batter”. The guard said he had “no idea what was going on.”

The strange thing is that all this focus on winning over people who don’t know much about the game means they seem to have overlooked some of the people who already do. Neither of the two matches I’ve attended in the US so far were sold out, and suddenly the organizers have announced that all remaining matches will have more tickets available as well. But most are held on weekdays at 10.30am because, as always with ICC events, the desire to cater to local audiences is secondary to the need to appease Indian TV companies. Even if that means there are empty seats in the stadiums.

If the US wants to be more than a backdrop for Indian television, then cricket here really needs infrastructure and facilities. Even USA Cricket chairman Venu Pisike described his work to me as “doing the best I can with the little resources and funding available.” The Nassau County site may not have permanent seating, but New York’s other fields, at Van Corlandt Park in the Bronx, don’t even have sight screens, rolled wickets or flat outfields. Initially, the temporary stadium was supposed to be there too, until the local players pointed out that if it was, they wouldn’t be able to play anywhere this season.

“The first thing they need to do is create one good cricket pitch,” a local club player told me. “One on par with even the worst cricket ground in London. You could play for the crappiest club in London and your playing field is better than the best we have in New York. We just need any kind of facility where people can practice, nets or artificial wickets, but there is no bottom-up investment at all.” What they have instead is $30 million in scaffolding and a promise from the ICC that when it’s all gone and the show has gone on, there will be an outfield with an artificial wicket left at Eisenhower Park.

Major League Cricket managed to gain ground in Grand Prairie, which also hosts matches in this tournament, for $21 million. They are already developing plans for permanent locations in each of their existing host cities, which they hope will become hubs, with academies and minor league teams attached. The New York team hopes to build theirs in Marine Park in southern Brooklyn. One wonders if cricket wouldn’t have gotten a lot more bang for its buck by participating in such a project. As it stands now, any New Yorkers who convert to the sport in the next two weeks will have to leave the state to watch another game once the World Cup is over.

Still, this is a big project, and the one thing everyone involved agrees on is that it will take a lot of time to get it right. MLC is already expanding and its investors say its success should be measured over decades. The ICC also regards this tournament as a launch. It should just be the popping of the cork. The big question is how many people here want what they pour.

Quote of the week

“They may not win the actual event, but they want to leave an impression, they want to be the best team in every other thing. They want to be the team that signs the most autographs, gives the most interviews and the team that leaves the locker room the cleanest.” – Ugandan media manager, Innocent Ndawula, explains some of the unusual new performance measures the team is using during the tournament. From Taha Hashim you can learn a little more about this endearing team, participating in the tournament for the first time.

Memory strip

A missed catch during the IPL match between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings in Cape Town in 2009. Well, sort of. This referee showed great athleticism when he tried to catch a dog that had run onto the field, but unfortunately he could not get his hands on it.

Do you want more?

After a day in Dallas I started to worry that I would go the distance without meeting anyone outside the ground who knew the T20 World Cup was on. Turns out I was looking in the wrong neighborhoods, writes Andy Bull.

Canada defeated the US by 23 points in the opening game. No, not that one. The other. In 1844. When their star players included a chef and a teacher with nine fingers.

Creating cricket pitches is a tricky business. Simon Burnton tells the story of what the ICC went through to create ten new ones in New York.

And Mike McCahill reviews Sharan Sharma’s new cricket rom-com, Mr & Mrs Mahi.

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