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Greg Ballard's public support of cricket began soon after his election as Mayor of Indianapolis in 2008. Ballard, a retired Marine was convinced that cricket presented a unique opportunity to his city. "I want to establish the North American Cricket Tournament," he told a reporter from The Indianapolis Star in 2008. "We could create it," he said, "It would be ours."
"I don't know the rules," he said. "I just know it's huge around the world."
Pic (Right): Mayor Greg Ballard (second from right) seen here with USACA President Gladstone Dainty, former CEO Don Lockerbie and former Indy Parks Director Stuart Lowry. [File photo from 2009 - courtesy USACA]
Ballard walked the talk. By Fall of 2009, the Mayor was in discussions with USACA regarding his city's plans for cricket. By 2011, the cricket field at S. Post Road was seen hosting the Mayor’s Challenge Cricket Tournament. Following his reelection last year, Mayor Ballard has reiterated his support for the sport.
Cricket was on the agenda during Mayor Ballard's second trip to India over the past several days. The Mayor met with the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Kiran Kumar Reddy Nallari, a competent cricketer who captained Hyderabad U-22 and South Zone Universities teams during his playing days. On April 14, he toured Hyderabad Cricket Asscoiation's ICC approved Test facility in Uppal - the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium. Hyderabad is Indianapolis' sister city.
In an interview with The Times of India newspaper, Ballard said, “Cricket is not exceptionally strong in the U.S. right now. I aim to change that.”
“When people around the world think of cricket, I want them to think Indianapolis,” the Mayor told TOI.
When plans for the cricket field were first announced in 2009, Indianapolis was just a remote outpost on USA's ever expanding cricket map. But things have changed since.
Pic (Right): Cricket has a 20 year history at Purdue. Pictured right is a Purdue360 flyer promoting a cricket demo.
At the university level, Indiana and Purdue both have had active cricket clubs. Purdue is serious about the sport and has a hard ball cricket team that plays in the Midwest Cricket Conference. Purdue University Cricket Club's Natraj Iyer Memorial Indoor League has sixteen teams playing in 2013.
Local corporates, Eli Lilly and Co. and Dow Agrosciences, both sponsor tournaments. And thanks to the efforts of USYCA's Indianapolis chapter, the Indiana Cricket Association, over 230 schools have been introduced to cricket. “We are expanding this game in Indiana,” Jatin Patel, President of Indiana Cricket Association said. “We are leading the nation.”
In 2009, after USACA had its board meeting in Indianapolis, then CEO Don Lockerbie and President Gladstone Dainty met with city officials. Following his meetings, Lockerbie told DreamCricket.com: “Mayor Gregory Ballard has made the development of an international sports park a major initiative for his Parks Department, with the likelihood of the main iconic feature of the park, an ICC recognized cricket stadium and ground." Lockerbie was referring to the Post Road Community Park, which in its new avatar is called the World Sports Park.
Unlike Broward County's $70M cricket stadium, which has been in the news recently following Lauderhill Mayor's letter alleging lack of support by USACA, the facility in Indianapolis is far easier on the wallet. The $5.8 million facility draws on the RebuildIndy Infrastructure fund and will feature other international sports such as hurling, rugby and lacrosse, thus giving it a better chance at success.
If the Mayor's continuing support for cricket bears fruit, the project will further enhance Indianapolis' reputation as a sports mecca. The city of 1.7 million is already the home of the Indy 500, which is billed as the greatest spectacle in racing. Indianapolis serves as the headquarters for USA Track and Field, USA Diving and USA Gymnastics. The city is also home to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the governing body for high school sports.