Column | ICC needs to be prudent while picking World Cup hosts

Rohit Sharma
Indian captain Rohit Sharma returns to the pavilion after falling cheaply against the US. File photo: AFP/Timothy A Clary

Despite being under the rule of Great Britain before 1776, the United States of America (USA) never took to two of the sporting events that were popularised by the great colonial power - football and cricket. Rather, this nation created its own modified (or corrupted) versions of these games - american football and baseball - which gained a following only to a limited extent outside of the US. Soccer gained a limited, but firm, foothold in the US when the 1994 FIFA World Cup was successfully staged in nine venues across this country. Thirty years after that seminal event, cricket is also making an attempt to inch its way to the mindset of the sports lovers of this vast country through the hosting of the International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 World Cup, jointly with the West Indies.

Cricket West Indies and USA Cricket had submitted a joint bid for hosting the above event in 2019. After due processes, the ICC announced in November, 2021, that the joint bid was successful, leading to the commencement of processes for holding the championship. Since the US is not a “full member” of the ICC and do not play international cricket with the “big boys”, all arrangements, right from the scratch, had to be done under supervision and with the approval of the global body. The first among these was identification of venues and stadia where the games were to be held.

The ICC shortlisted 4 venues - Florida, Texas, New York and North Carolina - out of which  they zoomed in and gave green signal to the first three. The presence of South Asian population in these locations was certainly one of the criteria applied by the ICC while shortlisting the venues. While the venues at Florida and Texas - Central Broward Park and Grand Prairie stadium - did not face any issues, the one initially identified at New York - Van Cortlandt Park at Bronx - met with opposition from the local residents. Hence this had to be shifted to Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, located in Nassau County. Since New York was scheduled to host eight games, including the marquee clash between India and Pakistan, the arrangements here took precedence over those at other places.

Once the venue was fixes, the ICC went ahead with making arrangements for the conduct of the matches, which included everything from construction of stands, arrangements for players and press, preparation of pitches and square and development of outfield, with facilities for drainage. The work in this regard began only in January, 2024, but in a short span of four months a full fledged stadium with state-of-the-art dressing rooms and media centre came into existence using modular architecture. Outfield was also developed quickly as per the norms prescribed by the ICC.

Jasprit Bumrah
The pacers such as India's Jasprit Bumrah, right, relished the conditions at the Nassau County Stadium in New York. File photo: Reuters/Andrew Kelly

However, difficulties were faced with regard to pitches - the most important part of a cricket field where the real action takes place between the bat and the ball. Given the tight timelines, the unfavourable weather conditions and lack of local expertise, it was not feasible to curate pitches in the US. Hence the ICC decided to approach Adelaide Turf International for making “drop-in pitches“ for use during the matches here. “Drop-in pitches” are prepared and kept in a steel tray, as opposed to the regular pitches, which are developed on the ground. Ten such “drop-in pitches” were ordered for New York, four for the square in the main stadium and the balance six for the practice facility. Adelaide Turf International boasts of considerable expertise in this area as they also prepare the surfaces for the international matches held in the Australian city where they are located. 

However, the ICC faced difficulties even after “drop-in pitches” were made in Adelaide, which was completed in December, 2023. They could not be straightaway transported to New York and fixed in the stadium as the weather in this city did not permit this, as the temperatures had dropped to below zero degrees Celsius. Hence, the pitches were first transported to Florida and kept there till they were moved to New York, by April end. The net result was that the four pitches that formed part of the playing square were fixed to the earth in the stadium only by mid May. This left too little time for conduct of trial or practice matches on the pitches to know how they would behave in actual match conditions. All that could be managed was a practice game between India and Bangladesh on June 1.

The less than adequate preparations left their mark on the championship also. Bowlers, especially the speedsters, had a field day as the bounce was unpredictable, which led not only to loss of wickets but landed a few blows on the body of the willow-wielders as well. The batsmen had a tough time adjusting to the vagaries of bounce and the lateral movement that the ball  generated from the surface. Run scoring was not easy as the ball did not came on to the bat and the uneven bounce kept the batsmen guessing. Bowlers who pitched the ball at good length or short of good length spot were almost unplayable and wreaked havoc. 

The highest score compiled in the eights matches played here was 137/7 by Canada against Ireland in their allotted 20 overs. Ireland replied with 125, which was the highest total made by a side batting second. India managed to all three matches, with the 6-run victory in the game against Pakistan bringing plenty of relief, happiness and cause for cheer to the thousands of expatriates from the country who have settled in the US. The total of 119 made by India against Pakistan was the second lowest one successfully defended by a side on this ground, after the 113 by South Africa against Bangladesh that they won by four runs.

Suryakumar Yadav
Suryakumar Yadav produced a match-winning unbeaten fifty against the US. File photo: AFP/Robert Cianflone

No batsman could reach the coveted three figure mark in any of the matches played at New York. Five half-centuries were made here, with the unbeaten 59 made by David Miller of South Africa against the Netherlands being the highest individual score. There were couples of fifties by Indian batsman - 52 by skipper Rohit Sharma against Ireland and un unbeaten 50 by Surya Kumar Yadav (SKY) against the co-hosts. SKY had to labour for 49 balls to reach his half-century, which showed the difficulties in run scoring on a tough wicket. Fast bowlers, on the other hand, relished their task, as wickets came their way without too much difficulty. The fact that they bagged 82 wickets that fell in the games here, as against the measly 15 taken by the spinners, stood as evidence to the dominance they exerted on the proceedings in the middle at this venue.

All the four matches at Dallas produced good cricket and none of the sides that played at Grand Prairie stadium had any experience similar to that gone through by those who played at New York.

What came as the ultimate shocker was the news report that the stadium at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, Nassau County, was promptly dismantled after the close of 8 matches held here. This meant that all the infrastructure, pitches, outfield etc were made solely for the purpose of hosting these games and the ground reverted back to whatever status it had, prior to staging the championship. Thus the facilities created for this championship will not be available for use either by the organisers or the budding players from this country.

This brings one to the reasons behind hosting the event of this nature in a country, which is not a very strong force in international cricket and where the game does not have deep roots. Conduct of international championships usually helps in improving the visibility and popularity of the game in the country where it is held, leads to development of top quality facilities and infrastructure and gives a fillip to the players and the national squad. The US have done well as a team, upsetting Pakistan and moving into the Super Eight stage. But this good performance was fashioned more by players who had cut their cricketing teeth in major cricket playing nations like India, New Zealand and Pakistan and subsequently moved to the US for reasons other than cricket, than by domestically bred cricketers.  The championship has not caught the attention of the general public in the country and viewership is limited to expatriates from South Asia, who are even otherwise crazy about this sport. And with the facilities built also getting dismantled, the benefits that were to accrue from the improved infrastructure have also vanished.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) insists that a member association who wants to host an international match should have control over the stadium where the game is proposed to be held. The BCCI also lays down that the stadium and ground must have conducted sufficient number of domestic first-class games and should not be used for any purpose other than cricket. The intention behind this approach is to ensure that the facilities that are created for conduct of the international match are available for players to use after the game is over. It is obvious that the ICC, which oversees conduct of all global championships in cricket, does not have any such stipulation. Had such requirements been there, the present scenario of playing international matches between top sides on poorly prepared pitches in temporary stadia in a country, which has neither a history or heritage associated with the game, would not have happened.

In the final analysis, one can say with the benefit of hindsight that conducting a few matches of the T20 World Cup in the US was not one of the best decisions of the ICC. One hopes that it will learn from this experience and avoid pitfalls of similar nature while deciding the conduct of major championships in future.

(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a retired bureaucrat)

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