Cricket world chirping about Indy’s World Sports Park

More than a month after Indianapolis hosted its first international cricket event, the cricket universe is still chirping about the week-long tournament.

Some city taxpayers are still upset that Mayor Greg Ballard paid $5 million to turn Post Road Community Park on the east side into World Sports Park, but cricket players, International Cricket Council members and other cricket insiders couldn’t be more thrilled.

“The World Sports Park proved to be an absolutely great facility for cricket,” said Jatin Patel, an advisory board member and coaching director for the American Cricket Federation.

Patel, a volunteer worker at the tournament May 3-10, thinks Indianapolis’ cricket facility rivals any in the country.

“I didn’t hear anything negative about this [venue],” Patel said. “Everyone was impressed. I think there’s a lot of potential to bring other [cricket] events to the World Sports Park.”

But others at the tournament said the facility needs some badly needed upgrades if it's going to host other big-time cricket events.

The Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament hosted by the International Cricket Council featured teams from the U.S., Canada, Bermuda and Suriname. The teams were playing for a spot in the ICC World Qualifier next month in Ireland and Scotland.

City officials were pleased, but not surprised, by the feedback.

“People don’t realize it, but these are premier fields,” said IndyParks spokeswoman Maureen Faul. “We thought it was important to get this right from the start. The city made sure they were really engineered correctly.”

International Cricket Council officials in town for last month’s event said World Sports Park has “the nicest field in the country,” Faul added.

Players agreed Indianapolis got it right with the park.

“Facility-wise, I think it’s really good. I think the outfield is magnificent,” Bermuda team member David Hemp told ESPN.” All it probably needs is a clubhouse, a proper changing area. But apart from that, I think it could be a really good venue, so I’m really impressed with what I've seen.”

Indianapolis was set to host a national championship for a separate cricket association last August. But that operation, USA Cricket Association, is on shaky financial footing and faces penalties from the sport’s international sanctioning body. Those complications only added to the local skepticism of the venue—and what it could do to draw events to bolster the economy.

Despite cricket’s inauspicious beginning here, the sport’s main international sanctioning body thinks it has a bright future in Indianapolis.

One of World Sports Park’s best features is the ability of the field to drain quickly if it rains, said veteran groundskeeper Mark Perham, who was brought in from New Zealand to work on the venue for the tournament.

Local designers used “the world’s best standard practice for building outfields,” Perham said. “The drainage is phenomenal.”

Despite rainy weather on the third and sixth day of the tournament, there was very little impact on play and limited cancellations needed. Cricket officials said the playing area at the park even compared favorably to Central Broward Regional Park in Florida, long deemed the best cricket facility in the country.

Fans were happy, too. About 1,000 came from across Indiana and neighboring states, and many lauded the venue despite its lack of bleachers and concession stands.

Peter Della Pena, who covers cricket for ESPN, said the vast majority of people he polled at the event said they’d pay $10 to $15 to attend—and some said they’d pay much more. (Admission was free.)

While IndyPark’s Faul said city officials would be interested in bringing more cricket events to the venue, there are no efforts under way.

And Della Pena thinks there could be some significant obstacles: “The ICC Americas won’t be staging another regional Division One tournament for at least two years and unless other investments are made to upgrade the site, it won't be desirable for hosting neutral-site, full-member cricket like the Central Broward Regional Park has done in the past.”

While Della Pena agreed the playing field—or pitch—rivals others in the U.S., he added “it was obvious that most other aspects outside the ropes were makeshift accommodations that would only be suitable at the amateur level. In order to host something like the West Indies—New Zealand matches held in Florida in 2012, Indianapolis would need to invest significantly more in infrastructure at World Sports Park to attract revenue-generating events.”

That will likely be a topic for the next mayor to consider.

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