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Indianapolis aims to become top center for cricket

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The Midwestern city best known for its basketball and auto racing is gearing up for a proper game of cricket — the ball-and-bat sport most Americans know only from British films or by surfing through international sports channels.

Indianapolis is spending $6 million to equip one of its parks with a premier cricket field, known as a pitch, and space for Gaelic football, rugby, hurling and other sports mainly popular overseas.

Mayor Greg Ballard hopes his World Sports Park project brings international exposure to Indiana's capital and helps local companies attract talented overseas workers by offering them a home for their favorite games.

"I don't think there's any city that's trying to put all these pieces together, but there's always a first-mover advantage for those who try to do it right," he said. "These are global sports and they'll give us more visibility in the global marketplace."

Cities across the country are jockeying for any advantage they can find to boost economic development, and sports is an easy target. The NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball pump millions into local economies in the cities that host them.

But can a sport that most Americans are unfamiliar with have the same payoff? It's a gamble, said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at San Francisco's Baker Street Advertising.

"How do you sell it to a public who really doesn't understand it? To me cricket is a fairly mystifying sport," Dorfman said. "It takes a lot to really figure it out."

That hasn't always been the case. The British brought cricket to the American colonies in the early 1700s. And the game — featuring two teams of 11 cricketers who use flat-fronted wooden bats to hit a small, heavy ball that's bowled toward them — enjoyed a strong following until baseball, an offshoot of cricket, became the nation's favored game after the Civil War.

Ballard, a Republican in his second term, isn't daunted. Indianapolis has already signed a three-year deal to host a U.S. amateur cricket tournament and championship, starting in August 2014. That tournament will be the first such event in the U.S. since 2011.

"When people around the world think of cricket, I want them to think of Indianapolis," he told media in India during a trade visit in April.

Whether Indianapolis residents buy in remains to be seen. Local Democrats have criticized Ballard for moving ahead with the park upgrade at a time when the city faces a $50 million budget deficit. The project's funding is coming from a $425 million fund set aside for infrastructure upgrades after the city sold its water and sewer utilities.

Democratic Councilman William Oliver says the money would have been better spent on new sidewalks and other projects that would have benefited a wider spectrum of residents.

"You can shoot craps if you've got the money to wager a bet, but we don't have the money," Oliver said.

Cricket supporters insist Ballard's vision can become a reality.

Darren Beazley, the chief executive of the United States of America Cricket Association, said there are currently 50 cricket leagues with 1,108 teams in the U.S. and that about 30,000 Americans — mostly immigrants from former British colonies — play cricket, which he said is the world's second-most popular sport after soccer.

Beazley said his Lake Worth, Fla.-based group hopes to double the nation's pool of cricket players within five years, in part by demonstrating the sport to schoolchildren to get them hooked, much as soccer was popularized a few decades ago.

"How do we get the average American kid to say, 'You know what, this is a good, fun, safe game. I love it and I want my friends to play'? That's the challenge," he said.

Jatin Patel, president of the Indiana Youth Cricket Association, said students in about 240 Indiana schools have been shown the basics of the sport since his Indianapolis-based group began an outreach program in 2010.

Patel, who moved to the U.S. from India in 1986, said the organization is also training teachers as cricket coaches, with about 80 certified to date. He said some schools have added after-school cricket programs, drawing more youngsters into the game.

"They need to learn this game, that's all it takes. They'll get used to it once they see teams playing in their backyard, their neighborhoods or their school," Patel said.

Indianapolis isn't the first U.S. city to try to tap into the sport's overseas popularity. Lauderhill, Fla., opened a $5 million cricket stadium in 2007 that's the only U.S. cricket venue certified by the International Cricket Council. Indianapolis hopes the cricket field it's building will become the nation's second certified by the Dubai-based group.

Although Lauderhill's venue has attracted international games, it's been plagued by a lack of income and marquee events.

Lauderhill Mayor Richard Kaplan said his South Florida city is still working to land long-term agreements for international cricket matches, such as a game it hosted last year between the West Indies and New Zealand that he said was seen by a global television audience of about 1 billion people.

"If your goal is to try and connect with many parts of this world for potential commerce, trade and tourism, that's a huge market to go after," he said.

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  • Brave attempt
    from what i see having a cricket stadium in US is highly unlikely and considering there already famous sports like basketball it will find hardly any supporters. given the condition cricket like anyother sport needs to be in this super talented country of sports men ..I dont see any harm in introducing it ..I would say its an attempt to with low invt towards another sport. Who knows US could be a champion. Cricket is not very far away from baseball. If english can do it well so can the people in US. and if US gets a chance to host a ICC tournament ...which it will definitely will make lots of money for Indianapolis. countries like Windies NZ Aussies England India pakistan all play cricekt ..then why US should be behind in this sport .Indianpolis can begin with shorter version of the game T20 which is catching up like craze. but Cricket needs bowlers fiery tall fast bowlers who can throw the ball at speed in excess of 100mph ..no coutry has produced it i bet the talent is here in the US...anybody out there who can throw a ball at 100mph and disturb the timber ????
  • Brave attempt
    from what i see having a cricket stadium in US is highly unlikely and considering there already famous sports like basketball it will find hardly any supporters. given the condition cricket like anyother sport needs to be in this super talented country of sports men ..I dont see any harm in introducing it ..I would say its an attempt to with low invt towards another sport. Who knows US could be a champion. Cricket is not very far away from baseball. If english can do it well so can the people in US. and if US gets a chance to host a ICC tournament ...which it will definitely will make lots of money for Indianapolis. countries like Windies NZ Aussies England India pakistan all play cricekt ..then why US should be behind in this sport .Indianpolis can begin with shorter version of the game T20 which is catching up like craze. but Cricket needs bowlers fiery tall fast bowlers who can throw the ball at speed in excess of 100mph ..no coutry has produced it i bet the talent is here in the US...anybody out there who can throw a ball at 100mph and disturb the timber ????
  • Ridiculous.
    This state has a $350 million arts industry that receives somewhere around $1 million, annually, in state subsidies. We once had a world-class symphony orchestra (now it's little more than a pretty well regarded part-time community orchestra) that gets about $175,000 a year. And they're tapping $6 million for a cricket venue? Give me a break. Next they're going to be telling us their foisting another boondoggle Super Bowl on us. C'mon guys...get your priorities somewhat in order. Cricket isn't going to bring a fraction - a fraction - of the regard and revenue of the symphony alone, let alone all of the other arts organizations you're ignoring who are more a cornerstone of Indiana culture than cricket could ever hope to be. And if you can't get over the jock sniffing, back slapping and self-congratulatory vanity model that's driving Indy as America's hotbed of useless sports, look at the bottom line. The arts bring in hundreds - hundreds - of millions of dollars to the state each year...and they're afforded less in state and local support than the Super Bowl parties that were held as part of that OTHER colossal and abjectly stultifying boondoggle. This is...just...ridiculous.
  • Let For Profit Sports Complexes host Cricket tournaments
    There was no reason to spend scarce budget dollars on a cricket stadium. There are several major for profit sports complexes in Marion County that would have happily expanded or converted their existing playing fields to accommodate cricket league play and tournaments. We need every budget dollar for more urgent needs-like more police officers.
  • Huddie
    Huddie - what are you smoking??
  • Watch out Detroit, here we come!
    There's a reason thousands of homes sit empty in this city, and that reason is absolute idiots like Ballard who fiddle while this city does its level best to catch Detroit.
    • Nope
      If Cricket was going to have any significance in the USA it would have happened years ago. This is a non-starter and just a little project to make some money for some cronies before the party is over.
    • It's a park!
      You guys need to relax. Remove the word "cricket" from this conversation and what you might see is the city is developing a park. Those are normally seen as a good thing. A bigger concern is Irsay's taxpayer ATNM card.
    • Mayor Ballard haters as always
      Really? you guys need to grow up and stop hating on Mayor Ballard for being a visionary. Remember Mayor Hudnut? He was a visionary just like Mayor Ballard and look where Indy is today compared to the 1970s when he took office. 2nd 6 million dollars isn't much for the city and your taxes are NOT being raised. so quit complaining. heck if you couldn't read the article take note: Lauderhill Mayor Richard Kaplan said his South Florida city is still working to land long-term agreements for international cricket matches, such as a game it hosted last year between the West Indies and New Zealand that he said was seen by a global television audience of about 1 billion people. 1 BILLION people watching any game broadcasted in Indianapolis is a great opportunity for this city and its better than the Super Bowl because most of these viewers aren't from the US. Even if only .001% of those people move or invest in Indianapolis that's still thousands of people.
    • exile from Meridian St.
      Enjoy mayor Ballard while you can, because whoever replaces him is likely to be another smiling politician who REALLY spends city money, like Bart Peterson. The crime problems could be reduced, but it would involve exiling about 5,000 of the most violent 14-28 year old males. No other county in the state would want them though.
    • cricket
      Why? Ballard was elected because he articulated a vision for the city that was fiscally conservative and prudent. Now, he seems to have developed a taste for spending taxpayers' dollars. Time for a new mayor who will stick to basics.
    • business plas
      There is a multi million dollar city owned cricket stadium in Lauderhill, FL which was built in 2007. After six years the International Cricket Council was basically told to take their business elsewhere so the facility could be redeveloped to make better use of the property. If the business concept failed in Lauderhill, FL, why should we expect a different result here in Indianapolis?
    • Priorities anyone?
      There was recently a water main break due to 'aging infrastructure', which closed a major intersection, and we are building cricket fields? Sounds like a late-night comedy spoof.
    • WHAT THE BULL LEFT BEHIND!
      Ballard is a WAY, WAY, out'a line! This is the UNITED STATES of AMERICA. WE, THE PEOPLE, INCLUDING MANY OF MY ANCESTORS, threw the damn BRITISH ROYALS, and their sycophants, out'a this country well over 200 years ago. WE, THE PEOPLE PLAY BASEBALL, not CRICKET. If Ballard want's to watch Cricket matches he needs to move to ENGLAND or one of it's devolved colonies and watch it there.
      • Rolls Royce
        I think RollsRoyce buying Allison Engines would help make the investment get some return. I think the article stating it is a safe game, is somewhat misleading, when it involves throwing a leather wrapped cannonball at 90mph at the batsman, ricocheting off the ground first. I used to live near Lancashire Cricket ground and went with my friends as a day out to sit in the sun, drinking beer, eating burgers and other fast foods and not paying too much attention to what's going on. In other words, doing what people do at the Indians games. It's not too dissimilar to Baseball, except when the batsman hits the ball into the crowd, you get the heck out of the way because it's going to break what it hits.
      • Emerson Avenue Gateway
        When is the city going to start on the Emerson Avenue Gateway project off of I70? A grant/money was set aside for this in 2007 and we have yet to see one shovel full of dirt moved. Where has that money gone?
      • Huh
        Not going to say I know much about Cricket, I don't. The city has been doing road repairs for the past few years at a steady pace. As cold as this is going to sound, the city can't really do anything about lack of parenting and responsibility other than catch the culprit and prosecute them. Lastly, what makes anyone think any city does just one thing at a time. Nothing would ever get done. They have to provide services as well as come up with methods to generate new dollars or is Indianapolis the ONLY city in the US that's just supposed to only do one thing at a time?
      • Fix the Streets
        We've got crumbling streets in too many areas, the IPS is a sick joke, some kid gets shot after the fireworks and all this nitwit can do is spend money on a cricket field! Geez, and I thought Carmel's Mayor Brainerd had a problem.

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