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By Venu Palaparthi
On June 19, 2009, I wrote on DreamCricket.com promising the American cricket community that DreamCricket.com would launch an award for the Best Cricket Ground in the USA. I also wrote that the award would be named after Claude Worrell, the former SCCA President, whose efforts contributed to the formation of the Woodley Cricket Complex cricket grounds.
I wrote then that "The trophy will be awarded each year and will go to the individual or group who volunteer their time to improve playing facilities in USA."
Three years later, the award became a reality through the support of Ram Varadarajan and his New Inning Foundation. The annual Claude Worrell Best Cricket Ground award comprising a plaque will be given to a league, club, and/or a parks department that is involved with maintaining a facility that is magnificent, well maintained and of the highest playing standard.
For 2012, the winning ground was selected through a popular vote conducted on DreamCricket's Facebook page.
It is a coincidence that when the cricketing populace around the country voted for the best ground, the winner was the field that Claude Worrell helped build.
The 2013 New Inning Foundation Claude Worrell Best USA Cricket Ground award goes to The Leo Magnus Cricket Complex, more commonly known as the Woodley Cricket Complex, a four field facility located in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys. The award will be given to SCCA and it will also recognize the role of the City of LA Recreation and Parks Department.
The complex in Van Nuys was created in 1978 because the Glendale Equestrian Center had taken over the Griffith Park Cricket Association grounds, established in May 1933 by the Hollywood Cricket Club. The equestrian interest was a byproduct of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and equestrian events and polo were planned in the adjoining area. The cricket family, led by the late Claude Worrell, strongly objected to the move and negotiations took place with local council authorities before it was decided that the game could move to what is now the Woodley Park cricket complex.
The SCCA's players literally 'pitched in' and began removing trees around the boundaries. The facility got a fresh lease of life in the 1990s due to Jean Wong's efforts to secure two additional fields in exchange for the older Marder field which became part of a bird sanctuary. The City of Los Angeles Parks and Recreation department spent $250,000 to level the field and provide for irrigation. The entire complex continues to be owned by the Army Corps of Engineers.
When Dr. Atul Rai became president of SCCA, one of the four fields was named for Wong. The Marder field is named after John Marder, who was among the founders of USA Cricket Association in 1963. To the south are the Severn and Wright fields named after Clifford Severn and Ernie Wright respectively. The whole cricket complex is named after Leo "Jingles" Magnus, a former Jamaican cricketer who played for the University Cricket Club.
During the 1990s, Peter Eaton, an expert groundsman from Sussex in England flew down and worked to ensure that the soil balance and porous clay content were just right. More recently, Richard Blackledge has been leading that effort.
The grounds have seen their share of prestigious tournaments. In 1997, the field hosted Jamaica featuring Jimmy Adams and Franklyn Rose. The same year, India A played Australia A at this ground and 5000 spectators gathered to watch VVS Laxman, Brett Lee, Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds here long before their famous rivalry became a thing of the legend in the sub-continent and down under. The ACF T20 hosted by SCCA was held at this facility in 2012.
The Woodley Cricket Complex can accommodate up to 5000 spectators and the league pays for the upkeep of the grounds. A quick look at the league's 2011 budget sheds some light on the amount of care the league takes to maintain this crown jewel of American cricket. During 2011, SCCA budgeted roughly $9,000 for pavilion repairs, $20,000 for the construction of a practice facility, $3,000 for rolling the grounds and roughly $20,000 towards the annual compensation for groundsmen.
[Pictures courtesy of Dwight McCann Photography. Cannot be reprinted without permission.]