Wednesday, 4 July 2012
Cricket in USA
I have previously watched baseball at Dodgers stadium in LA, so I was expecting that it would have a similar feel. There were a few things that I noticed at the baseball. There were people walking the aisles selling food. The people were generally not particularly engaged with the match. Everything was very well organised and orderly. I can honestly say that none of these things were true of the cricket.
The first thing I noticed was the queues to get into the parking. I arrived about 2 hours before the game, and it took me about 30 minutes to get a park. There were two reasons for this: firstly there was a lot of people there. Secondly there were two significant bottlenecks in the way that the carpark was laid out, and poor signage, meaning that a lot of people (myself included) drove the same stretch of road 2 or 3 times.
Then the next thing I noticed was the queues. There were thousands of people queued up for tickets, an hour and a half before the match started. It turned out that these were the smart ones. Once they had their tickets they had to go to their particular gate and go through security. The gates, however were not labelled, so people often waited in a long queue only to find that they were at the wrong gate. This was partially because they only had 6 ticket machines. If it takes 5 seconds for each person to go through (and it normally took more) and there are 6 machines that's 72 people per minute. Given a crowd size of 14000 it would take 194 minutes to get the crowd inside. This was never going to be enough.
To add to the chaos security were taking people's food and drink off them. While this is a policy that is common at sporting events round the world, normally there is some sort of warning, so people know not to bring it. Before going to an event I will normally look up the conditions, and see what I'm allowed to bring with me. Some of them are strange (ie Auckland Cricket's no branded food rule - where you have to take the labels off everything), but normally the conditions are listed somewhere reasonably prominent to avoid people turning up to the ground with a box full of food and drink and having to leave it at the gate.
To add to the confusion it was a very hot day. With the match starting at 3pm, the people were mostly queuing between 2 and 3, which is the hottest hour of the day. There was no shelter where people were queuing, meaning that grumpy people got grumpier as they waited to get inside. I was still outside when Dwayne Smith hit the first ball for 6. The crowd roared. The couple of thousand queuing near me started to grumble. Smith hit the 3rd ball for 6 also. This got the queuing group more agitated.
Once the issues with my pass were sorted out, it was the 11th over, so I didn't get to witness the buzz of expectation from the crowd at the start of the match. However the atmosphere that greeted me once inside was electric. There were flags of every West Indies nation being waved vigorously. There were people blowing into trumpets, shouting, dancing to the loud music, and all seemed to be having a sensational time.
Every quick single was greeted with ooh's and aah's every four was cheered and every six was an excuse to go completely insane. There was even a murmur from them for every dot ball. The crowd displayed the excitement of a small dog who's beloved owner had just returned from a long journey away. And for some of them this was a fair analogy. They were West Indian, they loved their cricket, and the were getting to see some for the first time in years.
Despite missing more than a quarter of the game due to an administrative mix-up, having to stand for 2 hours in the sun and then seeing New Zealand get completely destroyed, it was one of the best cricket watching experiences of my life. I was so taken in with the atmosphere that it wasn't until the 15th over of New Zealand's innings that I noticed that we were not even close to mounting a successful chase.
I stayed behind, wrote up my match report and chatted to a few people. I was still at the ground about 3 hours after the match. But it was not even slightly empty. There were still probably just over a thousand people dancing to the music. As I left the ground there were still groups of (very happy) West Indian fans milling round the car park celebrating.
The second match was much smoother. The organisers had learned a lot from the previous match. They had better barriers to stop people jumping the queue, they had people manually taking tickets and people at the start of the lines telling people what gate it was for. The parking was still chaotic, and the queues were still long, but things were much better.
It was frustrating and disappointing at the start but ended up being one of my most treasured cricket memories. In future it would be better to have a tri-series with USA included as the first two games and then a final. While it is unlikely that USA will beat a top team, it does give each side a warm up match, and that would have been very valuable for New Zealand in this series. It also means that the USA team gets to play good opposition, play at their home venue and start to build a following. If USACA, WICB and Broward County manage to get the details ironed out this could become a very popular and profitable start to every series.