At Richmond County Bank Ballpark on Staten Island, American Pro Cricket, the first professional cricket circuit in the U.S. Last Friday a raucous opening-night crowd of nearly 1,000 watched the Florida Thunder beat the New York Storm 92-88. Diehards were pleased by the continuous scoring and several diving, bare-handed catches. Fans who didn't know a googly from a glide could fall back on traditional ballpark frills like YMCA on the sound system, as well as a bongo drummer in the stands. Says Mervyn Dillon, 30, the Storm's frontline bowler, "Essentially, we're putting on a show."
League founder Kal Patel says Pro Cricket has enough funding from investors to last three years. He is also making cable and pay-per-view television deals, meaning all he needs now is a fan base. To draw audiences to a sport known in the U.S. for weeklong matches and white-garbed players—if it's known at all—Patel made radical rules changes to keep matches under three hours, added color to uniforms and instituted a DH rule.
The league's eight teams, spread from New York to Los Angeles, are made up of local club players and 40 international stars—such as Dillon, a seven-year veteran of the West Indies national team—who will rotate from team to team. Most matches will be played in temporarily retrofitted minor league baseball parks. On Friday groundskeepers flattened the pitcher's mound and laid out the wicket in the outfield.
"I like the challenge of taking a sport to a new audience," says Colin Miller, a former member of Australia's national team who is now playing in the league. "I would like to see if we could steal a few converts from baseball by season's end."