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At the USA Cricket AGM in April 2010, USACA's CEO Don Lockerbie spoke about plans for new cricket facilities in Indianapolis and Nassau County, New York. He said that an international cricket tournament like the ICC Champions Trophy required just 2 full-fledged stadiums and 4 pitches, which was within USACA's grasp if it worked hard at it.
Pictures Courtesy: StrathAyr Turf Systems
A new stadium project could take several years once funding is secured, and that is when everything goes to plan. The challenge for cricket is really one of business case - it simply hasn't scaled in terms of revenue or audience numbers that would be compelling enough to convince tax payers.
Broward County Regional Park is proof that a multi-sport stadium which includes cricket is a smarter option until cricket attracts sufficient year-round crowds to justify a purpose-built stadium. No surprises then that Indianapolis too is considering a multi-sport facility.
A potential remedy to USA's infrastructural deficiencies is the acquisition of the know-how for a drop-in pitch. Such a pitch would be prepared off the ground and laid on the ground as needed. Kerry Packer employed this innovative method for his World Series matches when he was forced to use non-cricket venues in the 70's. As with other Packer era innovations, the drop-in pitch idea has endured, and drop-in pitches are used for international cricket.
Make no mistake, there is a learning curve involved with developing these pitches. In July 2004, after the Test match at Darwin finished inside of three days, Gilchrist complained that the drop-in pitch was not up to test standards. "All you ask for in a good cricket pitch is consistency in bounce. It is difficult with drop-in wickets to know what you have to do. But they've had drop-in wickets now for many years at the MCG and they've got it right."
The application of drop-in technology has been perfected over time. Karl Johnson of New Zealand High Performance Centre once claimed that if a player walked on to the cricket ground in Christchurch, he would not know which pitch was permanent and which was dropped in.
Over time, solutions for multi-sport venues have become extremely sophisticated At the dual purpose Eden Park in Auckland, the front row seats retract when cricket takes over from rugby, and trays with sod are brought out to provide turf cover in place of the seats.
On the surface, importing prefabricated natural turf cricket wickets does not seem complicated. Some of the older cricket grounds in USA including Haverford College and Sea Bright imported their turf from England in the 1800s. In the 20th century, the Hollywood actor Charles Aubrey Smith imported turf and equipment for a cricket ground that he had constructed at the bottom of the Hollywood hillside near his home - the cricket pitch was 'smooth as a billiards table.'
More recently, in 2007, there was speculation about use of drop-in pitches at Shea Stadium - a possible venue for a planned series featuring India and Australia. During the planning stages of the 2007 World Cup, Karl Johnson told CricInfo: "[Unofficial] level talks between the West Indies Cricket Board and the Melbourne Cricket Club are on to use the drop-in wicket at Florida, in the United States, one of the possible venues for the next World Cup in 2007." Needless to say, neither idea materialized.
But owing to bio-security concerns, countries have strict regulations on importing clay or sod. Readers might recall how Indian cricketers Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag were penalized in 2002 because they entered New Zealand with dirt on the shoes!
Turf management experts in Australia and New Zealand can be relied upon for their expertise but the challenge is to find local raw materials and clay to built a pitch that can sustain days of wear and tear.
On July 18, 2010, The New Zealand Herald newspaper reported that a cricket turf expert in Auckland had received an inquiry from USA regarding a temporary drop-in pitch. According to the newspaper, a Staten Island cricket organizer apparently sought help from Mark Perham, the Head groundsman of Eden Park, regarding the options surrounding drop-in pitches, the transportation mechanisms and the grass to be used.
Mr. Perham told the newspaper: "We've been doing drop-in pitches now for eight years. We have been pricing up what it'll cost to send our trays and technology to New York, for example."
"We can't send our soil and clay because of the restrictions but baseball diamonds work on similar principles to cricket pitches when it comes to their make-up."
The other thing to consider is viability. Drop-in pitches don't come cheap - especially when viewed in the context of the cash-strapped cricket scene in USA. Developing the trays with the drop-in cricket pitches is only half the cost. Since the facility must also be used for at least one other sport such as baseball or soccer when cricket is not played, a portable solution must also include replacement trays containing turf suitable for those sports.
There is also cost associated with the transporter to move these trays and lock them in place. Unlike football or rugby drop-in turf, where the trays are small enough to be moved by a fork-lift, cricket pitches come in a single slab that is 25m long and 3m wide. StrathAyr has a fairly advanced self-propelled vehicle, the kind one sees on the Tappan Zee bridge. This can only add to the cost.
And then there are costs of maintaining the pitch, including the wages of the groundsman. All told, this is a costly proposition, but is not as expensive as building a cricket-only stadium.
That brings us to the 64 million dollar question! Is there a multi-purpose stadium in one of the major cities that is big enough that is willing to share its facilities with cricket? When ProCricket hosted its cricket matches at baseball parks in 2004, it proved that ballparks are willing to accommodate cricket, even these grounds proved to be sub-optimal for cricket. Regular NFL or baseball venues are thought to be somewhat narrow and asymmetrical for cricket.
A quick Google search reveals that there are a handful of multi-purpose ball parks out there that are configured in a manner that make them slightly more conducive for cricket. A majority of them, such as The Astrodome in Houston have an astro-turf surface, which is unsuitable for cricket. But RFK Stadium in Washington DC, Sun Life stadium in Miami Gardens, the Qualcomm stadium in San Diego, the LA Coliseum in Los Angeles and The Coliseum in Oakland have grass surfaces and are more suitable than the astro fields.
Of these, the LA Coliseum has already hosted a cricket match - on May 19, 1990, the national cricket teams of Australia and Pakistan, played an exhibition ODI there. That may just be what the doctor ordered until Indianapolis and Nassau County come to the rescue.