Americanised cricket for generation next

Published: Tuesday, June 29, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Washington:Hold onto your bats, purists. Here comes cricket American style - complete with designated hitters, non-batting bowlers, five deliveries an over and matches about as long as an American football game.

Nearly 30 years after Pele came to the United States in a similar bid to boost football fortunes, American ProCricket (APC) will bring about 40 global standouts to US cities during a two-month debut season that begins Friday.

"This is going to be an action-packed game. We're going to see a lot of fours and sixes," promises Kal Patel, commissioner of the eight-team league.

"There are 7.5 million people watching or playing cricket in America. There is definitely room for growth to take the game to the next level."

Australian Colin Miller, India's Ajay Jadeja, Nikhil Chopra and Rahul Sanghvi and West Indies stars Darren Ganga and Mervyn Dillon from Trinidad and Tobago will be featured in the first matches using an adapted Twenty20 format.

The New York Storm, New Jersey Fire, D C Forward, Florida Thunder, Chicago Tornadoes, Los Angeles Unity, San Francisco Freedom and Texas Arrowheads field US talent augmented by a rotating lineup of three or four global guest stars.

"They will be elevating the level to play for all teams," Patel said. "The focus is fair and square on Americans."

Hong Kong national team coach Robin Singh of India, Kenyans Steve Tikolo and Brij Patel, Aussies Simon Cook and Greg Matthews and Curtly Ambrose, Richie Richardson, Wavell Hinds, Cameron Cuffy, Franklyn Rose, David Williams and Dinanath Ramnarine of West Indies are set for appearances during the season.

"They are by no means has-beens," Patel said. "Look at India. India has tremendous talent. India supports a (touring) team of 20 people. The next 80 are going to be phenomenal and they are the type of players we will have."

England 2003 Test players Andy Caddick and Alec Stewart were thought to be on board but are no longer expected.

"APC believed it had a deal in place with these two players, having gone through an intermediary," Patel said. "This no longer appears to be the case as these gentlemen have quotes in the media suggesting otherwise."

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has not sanctioned the league but the ICC stands to gain most of all if APC brings cricket greater US attention.

The Fort Lauderdale area, home of APC's Florida team, is under consideration by the ICC to stage some 2007 World Cup matches when the West Indies serves as host. An assessment team visited the area earlier this month.

The ICC is expected to name eight World Cup 2007 sites on Sunday and assign 51 matches on July 13.

Kamal Verma, the financial backer of all clubs, and Patel are both American businessmen who were born in India. They see opportunity in 7.5 million US immigrant cricket fans, many who spend dearly to watch pay-per-view matches.

"Not only do they pay a ludicrous amount of money to watch it, they get up at two in the morning to do it," Patel said.

APC will compete with baseball, golf, tennis, football, pre-season American football, three kinds of auto racing plus movies, summer fun and Olympic telecasts. But Patel is confident APC has what it takes to survive and thrive.

"We're fully funded for three years if we don't attract a single person to any of our games," he said.

Four years of research and eight months of preparation have brought cricket such slogans as "Fast and Furious Global Action" or "Blink and You'll Miss It". Designated hitters and more balls from top bowlers are aimed at building drama.

"Really, only 20 overs of this game are captivating for cricket fans. So why keep the part of less interest?" Patrel said. "We let the bowler sit out the last 10 overs. Why let him bat? You know he's not going to produce. Let a substitute batter come in and continue the excitement."

APC hopes for a television deal with global scope while planning youth clinics where international stars will teach bowling and batting to American youth who likely have never seen the five-day or One-day versions.

"We're actually introducing cricket to the next generation," Patel said.

If Americans get the "silly point" of it all, this could be the start of a US cricket century.

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