By Peter Della Penna in Florida
Caribbean Premier League international cricket director Tom Moody and chairman Richard Bevan talk about the tournament’s foray into the American market
It’s a glorious early morning on the Atlantic coastline of Florida route A1A. Cruise ships are out in the distance, swimmers and surfers are beginning to populate the waters, and beachgoers lounging around in the sand looking to get a good tan.
On the opposite side of the street, two cricket administrators are having a casual morning coffee, looking fairly relaxed despite the historic event they are overseeing.
“It’s a fun few days coming up, but a serious few days as well” Caribbean Premier League chairman Richard Bevan tells ESPNcricinfo. “It’s not just about turning up and playing a bit of cricket on some grass. It’s about serious progression.
“This is the first professional tournament being played in America. Cricket has come and gone in America going back to the 1750s, but for the CPL being the first professional tournament, it’s a very serious business.”
A seven-mile drive west from Fort Lauderdale Beach along Sunrise Boulevard lies the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill where the CPL will be staging six games over four days this weekend. As the first overseas franchise league to attempt to stage matches in America, the historic nature of the event isn’t lost on Bevan or his colleague Tom Moody, the CPL’s international director of cricket, as the league tries to make a splash in Florida, and more broadly to the country as a whole.
“We want six entertaining games, we want to bring the biggest party in sport and introduce it to a market that’s got a taste for cricket,” Moody says. “But we want to give them more than a taste. We want to give them a full meal.
“If we continue to repeat what we’ve been doing over the last few weeks in the Caribbean here in Lauderhill, it will be a win because we know that whether people have been introduced to the game before or it’s their very first taste of the game, it’ll be something that’ll intrigue them and they’ll want to have another go at it and another opportunity to see it. That’s what it’s all about, for us to help promote the game of cricket in a new market.”
When it comes to providing a taste of cricket, the approach used most often by previous organisers who have come to America to stage high-profile events has been to give a man a fish so he can eat for a day rather than teach a man to fish so he can eat for life. Little impact is made in the immediate community and the event comes off looking like a cash-grab, cookie-cutter experience indistinguishable from any match that can just as easily take place in another neutral venue, like Dubai. Moody says that is the last thing the CPL wants to be seen to be doing, especially in the US market.
“For the first four years of the CPL’s journey, certainly from my standpoint, it’s not been a grab-and-run operation,” Moody says. “It’s been about what can we do to develop the game in the Caribbean. It’s always been looking at how can we improve cricket, how can we develop the game, how can we leave a legacy, how can this be seen in ten years’ time. It’s not like a circus that comes to town and then leaves town and leaves nothing.
“I think it’s a credit to the board of the CPL that their view has always been what can we leave behind and how can we continue to develop the game. I think the philosophy that’s been carried out in the Caribbean has just been transferred to what’s been happening here in Florida. It’s a responsibility as we’re guardians of the game, for us to make sure that we can leave this place richer with regards to the experience of the game of cricket so when we come back again, we’ve got more people engaged, more people educated, more people wanting to play a role in the game of cricket.”
To ensure that CPL’s first tournament leg in Florida isn’t their last, a meticulous plan has been executed to ensure a successful foundation is laid for a return visit. That began with a mandate to have six players from the ICC Americas region – one for each franchise – taken in the CPL draft. It resulted in three Americans – Steven Taylor, Timroy Allen and Ali Khan – being given CPL contracts.
Taylor and Samuel Badree appeared at a Miami Marlins baseball game last month to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and give some promotional exposure to the CPL. Jamaica Tallawahs, the first team to arrive in Florida a full week before the first match in Lauderhill, have been leading the charge with regular kids’ clinics at the stadium and other teams have followed suit.
The CPL in conjunction with the ICC Americas staff has held a series of clinics and seminars for coaches and umpires throughout the region. Moody spent 10 hours on Tuesday working with local coaches on the philosophies of the game and there was a presentation given by Kumar Sangakkara. Among those attending the seminar to improve their coaching skills were former Nepal coach Pubudu Dassanayake, now based in Canada, and former West Indies batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who lives in Orlando and is looking to get more involved with coaching locally.
Initiatives are also in place at the high performance level. USA’s 30-man national squad arrived on Wednesday night and on Thursday they are participating in a fielding masterclass session led by Trevor Penney. On Friday, a USA XI will play a combined CPL XI in an exhibition curtain-raiser T20 ahead of that night’s match between the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots and Trinbago Knight Riders. The USA players will also be interspersed among the six CPL teams to help them get a taste of professional environment with the help of team meetings, warm-ups and being in the dugouts.
“I think we’ve shown that over the past couple of days with the initiatives that the CPL has been embracing with regards to school visits, coaching clinics, a big day with a coaching seminar that I ran with [ICC Americas consultant] Tom Evans which from all accounts was a great success, that type of exposure and experience they’ve probably never had before,” Moody says.
“You take away just small things like that and the value of those types of things. We’re running a fielding masterclass with all the top coaches along with the USA team. So they’ll be right at their fingertips of getting some world-class experiences both in a lecture theater and also on the field of play. We’ve got the game against the CPL XI versus the USA. So there’s many many different layers to us trying to build a stronger relationship and a stronger foundation to help launch cricket to go to the next stage.”
CPL officials have earlier made statements that they view matches in Florida as a gateway to a bigger US market opportunity in New York, and perhaps extending even further north across the border into Toronto. There have also been discussions held by officials planning to make a visit to Texas to investigate the possibility of staging matches at a new private facility outside of Houston.
Such plans may be cause for concern for Lauderhill officials, particularly after the USA’s only ICC-certified ODI stadium was snubbed last year by the Cricket All-Stars tour, which opted to play in baseball stadiums with drop-in pitches in New York, Houston and Los Angeles. While Bevan acknowledges other destinations may be a possibility, he says the CPL is committed to making Florida a staple of their annual calendar.
“It’s not just the CPL. It’s the CPL, the WICB, the ICC looking out where we can best help grow the game,” Bevan says. “If the United States cricket authorities and the ICC say we’d also like you to grow the game in New York and California, then if we can do that from a growth perspective, fine. But we are here in Florida. We are looking to be based with this tournament here for a long period of time and to grow the game here. So the commitment is an obvious one.
“I think we’ll also see more Americans playing the game. The legacy is going to be really important, from repairing 20 sprinkler heads at the ground to finding more Steven Taylors playing the game.”
(Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo’s USA correspondent)