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Even if the sport doesn't impress the locals, the amount of money involved should.
The concession stands were selling hard liquor at 11 a.m.; jugglers and mimes entertained the children in the crowd; Japanese-style Taiko drummers beat on drums; and cheerleaders in short-shorts from local high schools danced to beats that blasted from the PA system every time a six, the equivalent of a home-run, was hit.
All over the world, cricket has been moving to such an approachable image. The new format of the game, known as T20, has cut down the playing time from the traditional five days to a more palatable three hours, and while staunch traditionalists have criticized the “spectacle” of T20 it has been a hit with cricket fans all over the world. Now it might even be winning over new ones among the 10,000 ticket holders in Florida.
Still, the game between Sri Lanka and New Zealand seemed more Vaudeville than sport. “The only way to create a true culture of cricket in America will be to get it on the high school playing fields and college campuses,” said Bernard Cameron who briefly ran the rival, and now defunct, “Major League Cricket” organization to promote cricket in America. But nurturing a culture of cricket in America, as it exists in many cricketing nations — mostly commonwealth countries — is a longer-term project with fewer short cuts.
Only one player in the American team that played over the weekend — the 16-year-old Steven Taylor — is American born. And the American cricket team has so far showed little promise. Team USA only won one game in the world cup qualifiers earlier this year and, in an ironic twist, was knocked out by Afghanistan. Last weekend on the field, things were still desperate as team USA played Jamaica in an exhibition game before the main event. One man, appalled by the sub par showing by the American team stood up in the stands, and in a thick Indian accent, yelled: “USA you suck! Go Home!”
But thanks to the visiting world-class teams, cricket did get some positive coverage for a change. A few New Zealand players held fielding practice with the Florida Marlins baseball team and the Kiwi captain Daniel Vettorri threw the ceremonial first pitch before the Marlins’ game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
There was even some hope in the stands. The blonde girl from the ticket window finally made her way into the stadium towards the end of the game to witness the strange spectacle. A few times, the ESPN camera stopped on her and projected her image on to the large digital screen in the stadium and beamed it across the world to an estimated 100 million viewers in 88 countries, which seemed to inspire her. The next time the camera landed on her, she jumped from her seat and threw her arms up in the air: “Woo Hoo! Cricket!” she decided.