Fort Lauderdale, Florida:Sri Lanka and New Zealand will stage the first cricket matches on US soil between two ICC full members this weekend, a move officials hope will launch a US boom for the sport.
"The historic event will provide great exposure," USA Cricket Association president Gladstone Dainty said. "We're very excited about the potential impact of this series for the growth and development of cricket in the United States."
Saturday and Sunday afternoon matches will be staged at Lauderhill's Central Broward Regional Park, the only ICC-approved venue in the United States.
The 20,000-capacity facility, which must still upgrade lighting to ICC standards in order to host night events, tried in vain to land a match ahead of the 2007 West Indies Cricket World Cup.
But with an India property developer sponsoring the Pearls Cup T20 matches and Indian Premier League officials talking about staging US events as early as 2011, the US breakthrough could be only a hint of greater things to come.
"We'll be meeting with potential investors and event developers to keep building our momentum," USA Cricket chief executive Don Lockerbie said. "Interest is already high and this is very encouraging.
"To grow the game of cricket in the USA, we need to have the best teams in the world play in our country. We want to demonstrate to the American public just how exciting the T20 format is."
More than 15 million people in the United States follow cricket and ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat has said he sees "vast potential for the growth of the sport in the USA."
"It's massive now in the US," New Zealand's Jacob Oram said. "There are a lot of cricket fans from India and Pakistan in this area, a lot from the Caribbean. If they can tap into this market, it will get bigger and bigger."
Plans for a US T20 league failed in the 1990s but USA Cricket hopes to organize a US T20 league as quickly as 2012.
"Given the door to cricket has been opened to investment through the sale of Indian Premier League franchises, this model is a logical step to raising the capital required to take cricket in the US to another level," said New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan.
"The structure proposed is a wonderful opportunity for someone to get in on the ground floor, particularly given the growing level of interest in the US cricket market."
For now, Sri Lanka and New Zealand will settle for a bit of cricket history in a land where baseball is the national pastime, basketball and American football rule and cricket is seldom found on the sport pages or telecasts.
"Our team and nation is honored to be one of the first two ICC Full Members to be involved in this historic series," said Sri Lanka Cricket secretary Nishantha Ranatunga.
"The Blackcaps are tremendously excited about the opportunity of launching international cricket in the United States," Vaughan said. "We're looking at ways of helping USA Cricket grow professionally and at the grassroots."
The Blackcaps visited baseball's Florida Marlins to see how life is for their US counterparts, using gloves to snag baseballs while the Marlins declined the chance to field cricket balls with their bare hands.
"They were telling me how they break fingers and hands all the time," said Florida's Hanley Ramirez, a shortstop from the Dominican Republic. "I told them, 'Maybe in the future you should think about wearing gloves.'"
Ramirez took the chance to don cricket pads and helmet and grabbed a cricket bat to swipe at a few bowled balls. Bouncing one into the stands, he asked, "Is that a double?" Then he saw another problem. "Where do I run?" he asked.
Clearly USA Cricket has some work to do. But cricketers are ready for the effort.
"The Blackcaps are really excited," captain Dan Vettori said. "We know the series against Sri Lanka will be a great advertisement for international cricket to US fans."