India vs West Indies T20: Not perfect, but a good start for cricket and fans in USA

After Saturday’s batting fireworks, any encore presentation may have struggled to match it. But things did not go as well – partially down to sub-tropical summer weather, partially down to technical matters. The result raises questions about the best way to move forward with international cricket in the United States.

A day earlier, a near-sellout crowd had watched a remarkable cricketing display, and one that went off without problems. However on Sunday morning in Florida, the match started late and ended early.
There was confusion around the stadium as the beginning of the match was delayed. Several members of the press and the behind-the-scenes technical staff reported being told that the problem had to do with the satellite feed. The entire point of starting the match in the breakfast hour in Florida was to air it on prime time television in India – so, no TV feed, no match.

India vs West Indies T20: Not perfect, but a good start for cricket and fans in USA

Cricket fans at the match between India and the West Indies in Lauderhill, Florida. AP

Fans around the ground were kept in the dark, however, and boos flared up as unexplained delays were announced.

Then came the rains. They’d kept away all weekend except for a couple light drizzles on Saturday. Midway through Sunday’s match, however, the skies opened and one of the torrential thunderstorms South Florida summers are known for, arrived at the stadium. Rain blew sideways as fans in the uncovered, temporary stands dashed for cover. By the time the short but fierce storm ended, the field was rendered unplayable.

There’s a reason why, when a new stadium was built for the nearby Miami Marlins baseball team, it included a retractable roof. It’s impossible to control the rain, but it is possible to control when and where matches are played. South Florida is a sub-tropical winter tourism destination. Winters are mild and mostly dry; summers are humid and among the wettest in North America. August to October is also the busiest part of the Atlantic hurricane season; a tropical storm had previously threatened to hit the area on Sunday.

There were also complaints about the way the match was televised and marketed in the United States. Neither match was shown on television in the US; instead, it was aired via a website specializing in Indian programming. This added to a feeling among some that the match was being marketed solely for an expatriate and Indian-American market at the expense of growing the game more widely in America.

The vast majority of fans in the ground were Indians or Indian-Americans, although smatterings of West Indian fans could also be found. Harder to find were Americans with no previous connection to cricket, although there were several. Sidik Alhassan had never been to a cricket match before. He explained some of his friends had convinced him to drive down with them from the state of Georgia, about nine hours away by car.

“Most of my friends are Indian,” he said, “so I’ve watched a lot of cricket. This is my first match though.
“I’ve been to (American) football games, basketball games, baseball games – but I’ve never been to a cricket game,” he said, adding that the atmosphere was great and he would attend another one if he could.

Uday Poosarla flew in from Dallas. He speaks proudly of his leadership role in Dallas-area youth cricket, where hundreds of youngsters take part in the game. He believes more high-profile matches such as this can help inspire more young people to take up the game – if they can have access to them. “It’s long due,” he said. “It would be better if the United States Cricket Association was able to do more to bring matches here.”

The United States Cricket Association is a longtime debating point for US cricket fans. For years, people have pointed towards its unwillingness to sanction international matches as a main reason why more international cricket has not been played here. It is currently banned by the ICC, a move that has helped to pave the way for last month’s Caribbean Premier League matches as well as the weekend’s matches.
Poosarla echoed the sentiments of others when he said that while the Lauderhill ground is important, he hopes to see more international-level cricket in different parts of the United States.

“I think we need stadiums in other parts of the country,” he said. He made a pitch for Dallas, which he said has great cricket weather. “There’s cricket played there all the time,” he said.

Meanwhile, a few lost-in-translation moments between cricket and the United States were reported. In one, an American stadium worker was decidedly unimpressed with an Indian legend – Sunil Gavaskar.

One cricket journalist tweeted a fairly comic exchange he witnessed before the match. When the India team bus arrived, local security denied entry to everybody else at the gate until the team was in. The problem: “everybody else” included Sunny Gavaskar. According to the journalist, the person with him was not happy. “Do you know who he is? He needs to be inside.” The response from security: “I don’t care who the hell he is, he ain’t getting in.” (Gavaskar was reported to be fine with it, taking pictures with fans until everybody was let in.)

It was the sort of event that summed up the weekend. When things went right, the crowd went wild. And when things went wrong, people had fun anyway. Mostly, the people who attended considered the matches a success. Not perfect, but a good first chapter in what Indian-American cricket fans hope will be a long story of India in the United States.

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Updated Date: Aug 29, 2016 08:54:23 IST

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