Field of Drools

Local cricketers can only dream of playing in the county's new high-end cricket stadium

On a recent Saturday evening at Lauderhill Sports Complex, the westernmost baseball field is missing its leather base bags. A large white circle cuts through the orange dirt of the infield, extending into the lush green grass of the outfield. In the middle of the circle, about centerfield, is a rectangular bald spot with wooden sticks perched at either end. The wickets, old boy, the wickets. Don't you know your cricket?

The players are all dark-skinned men in bright yellow-and-green uniforms. Some have traveled from south Miami-Dade or north Palm Beach counties to be here.

It's a championship match for the South Florida Cricket Alliance, between teams representing Pakistan and Jamaica. Cricket is said to be the second-most-popular sport in the world (after soccer), though only about a hundred people, mostly friends and family of the players, have shown up to watch this game. It begins unceremoniously and for the uninitiated, it seems to progress as slowly as a caterpillar climbing a tree.

Bowling for dollars and empty seats
Photo courtesy of Cricket Council USA
Bowling for dollars and empty seats

Batters take aim at a ball, hurled overhand, with a bat that looks like an elongated fraternity paddle. Occasionally, a solid hit elicits a cheer. Or a miss prompts a jeer like, "You weak, mon."

Of course, it's difficult to follow the action in the middle of the outfield from ground-level seats near the first-base line. How much better to have watched the match six miles away at Central Broward Regional Park's new cricket-capable stadium, where spectators could have gotten a bird's-eye view from tiered Crayola-blue seats 20 feet above ground and shaded by a red roof?

But, wait. That was the plan.

"All last year, I was telling people that we were going to have our finals at the new stadium," says Jeff Miller, president of the South Florida Cricket Alliance.

Then Miller got a price quote for the county-run Main Event Field. He says it would have cost $5,000 to play the amateur match at the field that locals have dubbed the "cricket stadium."

With the City of Lauderhill offering to host the match at one of its parks for free, the decision to play at the sports complex on Oakland Park Boulevard was a no-brainer.

So here's Miller, sitting on metal bleachers with a few dozen cricket fans, straining to watch the match through horizontal bars and a chainlink fence. His breath smells of alcohol, and his body language expresses disappointment. "Unfortunately, we local cricketers have fought so hard for that facility and we will never be able to play there. The fees are too high. We'll only be able to drive past it."

Miller came to the United States from Barbados in 1976 at age 16. Now 48, he speaks with a faint island accent. He works as a mortgage broker and lives in Coral Springs. His frameless glasses and short-shorn haircut lend him a bookish appearance. He lobbied hard for the county to include a world-class cricket field in the 110-acre county park north of Sunrise Boulevard and east of State Road 7 — in the heart of South Florida's sizable Caribbean community.

"A few years ago, I was out there taking petitions around, asking residents what they wanted in a park. I was pushing for cricket. I got hundreds of signatures. I went to county meetings at various locations — I attended those meetings because I wanted to see cricket in the park. But I didn't have to say anything because everyone was saying 'cricket, cricket, cricket.' "

The park cost $70 million, though the county has yet to break out the precise cost of the stadium. It has hosted four events since the park opened in November — two soccer matches, a cricket tournament, and a hip-hop concert — prompting critics to call the brightly hued structure a taxpayer-funded white elephant. Clearly, they argue, the facility's usefulness has been outweighed by its cost.

Give it time, insists Bob Harbin, director of parks and recreation for Broward County. "We've got people booking the facility right now. We just had a major event over Memorial Day weekend."

The event Harbin refers to is the MAQ T20 International Cricket Tournament, organized by the Boca Raton-based Cricket Council USA. According to park records, the event drew 3,500 visitors over three days, or a little more than 1,000 a day. The tournament's promoters, though, were anticipating attendance in the neighborhood of 10,000 per day.

But bad luck hounded the tournament. On the Friday of the event, it rained. On Saturday, it stormed. Finally, on Sunday, the weather turned favorable — there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and temperatures hovered around 80. The West Indies team, led by retired Antiguan cricketer Richie Richardson, won the tournament. The Cricket Council USA pitched players like Richardson as "cricket legends," and, in the end, they drew fans and autograph seekers — although critics argue that more cricket aficionados might have turned out had the council been able to book current international players.

Oh, but there was music! All of the musicians who were scheduled to perform on the stormy Saturday evening — including Bob Marley's son Ky-Mani and soca queen Alison Hinds — instead graced the stage on Sunday afternoon. Exuberant West Indies fans were bumpin' and grindin' until nearly midnight. The council figures that 6,000 people streamed in for the concert.

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