SBJ/February 22 - 28, 1999/No Topic Name

Cricket setting sights on the Big Apple

New Yorkers unfamiliar with wickets, pitches, bowlers and stumps may want to brush up on their sports terminology. Plans are under way to build North America's first internationally recognized cricket stadium in New York City.

The World Cricket League has agreed to spend $15 million on a 9,000-seat stadium in a city park in Brooklyn or Queens. The 10-year-old organization, which is dedicated to promoting cricket play in North America, is working with the New York City Sports Commission to select the site.

Largely unknown in North America, cricket is the world's second most popular sport. And with up to 22 percent of New Yorkers originating from cricket-playing countries such as India and the United Kingdom, professional cricket could be a huge draw in Gotham.

"There are 800,000 Caribbeans in New York, and a similar number of people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh," said Max Shaukat, president of the World Cricket League. "But there is not a field fit for cricket in the city."

Cricket will become an Olympic demonstration sport in the next Summer Games, he added, so if New York were ever to host the event, it would need a real field.

The league has hosted international matches in Toronto and New York at Downing Stadium. But those matches were played on inferior fields, said Shaukat.

"We had England and the West Indies teams," he said. "These players are like the Michael Jordans of cricket, and if you have them play on a field that is bumpy and the grass is 6 inches high, you won't get the best performances."

Unlike baseball fields, which can vary greatly in dimensions and quality, cricket fields, to conform to international standards, must be exactly the same. Each field must be flat and 120 yards by 130 yards. The pitch, a small 22-yard-by-3-yard area in the middle of the field, must be made with the correct mixture of grass, rock, clay and glue. In fact, Shaukat wants to bring a cricket groundskeeper from England to care for the new field.

The field may be ready by the summer of 2000, with the rest of the facility, including the stadium, built in succeeding years.

The cricket league several years ago bought 37 acres north of New York with the intention of building the stadium there, but the NYC Sports Commission recently approached the organization about building in the city.

The commission has been more aggressive in seeking sports development in the last year, said Ken Podziba, the agency's president. Under his leadership, the organization attracted the Professional Bowlers Association championships and a tennis wheelchair tournament.

The commission, which has a small budget, will not pay for any of the stadium construction. The money will come from the cricket league, which is financed through contributions from wealthy investors and membership dues.

Shaukat himself earned a fortune by introducing one-hour film processing in Canada, where he had migrated from Pakistan. He moved to New York a decade ago and manages the cricket league full time.

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