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South Florida is one of the most fickle sports markets in the country. Why anybody would want to start a new sport in this region is beyond me. Professional teams can win a championship here one year, yet halfway through the next season, the seats in the stadium are empty all over again.
It's a phenomenon that still perplexes non-South Floridians like myself, but it's not scaring off local businessman Mahammad Qureshi, who's getting closer than ever to seeing his beloved sport of cricket gain popularity in the States.
Qureshi is the man behind the MAQ T20 Cricket Tournament, a three-day, round-robin affair that has some of the best cricket players in the world coming to Lauderhill to compete. The idea is to help drum up major local support for cricket, and this weekend's tournament is a big deal.
Four teams of all-star players are flying in from India, Pakistan, Canada, and the Caribbean. To put it into context, think of the event as an international pro-bowl weekend for lovers of cricket. If you're wondering where the music aspect comes in, there are two nights of concerts planned for Saturday and Sunday to help market the event. Fans can get the whole package — live music and boss cricket — for $10 per day as long as they show up before 5 p.m. In today's economy, that's one hell of a good price.
When I initially saw the flier for this event, I was more intrigued by the music lineup than anything, and I knew I had to make some calls to figure out what this was all about. With acts like Allison Hinds (the queen of soca), Marcia Griffiths (the queen of reggae), and Ky-Mani Marley (the king of reggae's son) on the bill, the concert could easily have cost $25 to $35. To get this much quality music plus all-star cricket for a fraction of that price sounds like a steal. And that's just Saturday's ticket. On Sunday, there's a shift from West Indian music like reggae and soca to more Eastern sounds like chutney, bhangra, and bollywood music, with Ropal G and Adesh Samaroo heading a lineup that's as diverse ethnically as it is sonically.
There's a rich musical tradition attached to all of this, and the delectable sounds of live chutney music alone is worth checking out. We're talking about an amped-up version of bhangra/soca that's most popular in Guyana and Trinidad, and it's not commonly performed here.
According to Luther McKenzie, promoter and producer of the concerts, there's a cultural aspect to this whole tournament that can't be overlooked.
"This is a very important event because it mixes music and a part of our [Caribbean] culture that a lot of people often forget about — which is cricket," McKenzie says. "In parts of the Caribbean, cricket is huge. It's the second-most-watched sport in the world behind soccer. To combine that with a couple of concerts is one heck of a draw."
I agree with him. Call me cheap, but considering how expensive life is getting in South Florida, getting to enjoy all of this for $10 a day makes an impression.
"People are flying into town from all over for Best of the Best Concert [in Miami]," McKenzie says, "but they can come to our event this weekend and it won't put a dent in their wallets."
What's unique about this particular cricket event is that the sport itself is getting a slight alteration. Typical cricket matches can take a full day, or even five days, to complete. Think tea, crumpets, jolly old England, and way too much free time at everyone's disposal. That style of cricket could never catch on in America, so Qureshi has modified it and come up with a much faster style called 20/20.
"When I looked at all of the major sports in the U.S. that are successful, most of them are played for two to three hours," Qureshi says. "So we're speeding it up and making it more exciting for people to watch."
There's already a lot of hype about the event online, with lots of Indian, Pakistani, and Caribbean expatriates excited for a chance to see their favorite sport live. It makes sense: If cricket were to take off anywhere in the United States, South Florida would be the place.
"This is the last virgin territory for cricket in the world," says Nino Diloreto, a spokesperson for the tournament. "We want this to become a sport that's not just embraced by immigrants in South Florida but also to introduce it at the high school level and watch cricket really take off."
The high school component may be difficult on a larger scale, but as long as the folks behind the MAQ T20 Tournament continue offering sports and music at such an unbeatable price, gathering support from the local community shouldn't be a problem.
For a full lineup of events, call 877-322-8720, or visit www.cricketcouncilusa.com.