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World Cup Cricket: Team USA stuns Pakistan, next plays Ireland in Fort Lauderdale

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It is exquisite timing.

The first-ever Team USA World Cup cricket match will be played at Broward Stadium on Friday, June 14, when the Americans host Ireland.

Cricket fever has never been higher. The extreme niche sports in the U.S. received a gigantic boost when the U.S. stunned Pakistan Thursday in a World Cup group-stage match in Dallas.

That makes the Americans, in their first-ever World Cup appearance, 2-0, after a minor upset over Canada on June 1. The World Cup matches are soon descending upon Broward County, starting with Tuesday’s group-stage match between Sri Lanka and Nepal.

The 20-country tournament is being hosted by the U.S. and the West Indies. Ten countries will advance to the next round that will be hosted only by the West Indies countries of Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad, St. Lucia and St. Vincent where cricket is king.

Cricket is so huge in the populous countries of India and Pakistan that organizers call it the second-most-watched sport in the world after soccer. More than a billion fans will watch the World Cup.

Team USA qualified for the 20-country event only because it was named the host. And now it has topped powerhouse Pakistan. The betting odds before the match were minus-1000. You had to wager $1,000 on Pakistan to win $100.

“This was a massive upset,” said Mark Jones, a communications executive at the ICC (International Cricket Council). “This is beating the Soviets in 1980 (in the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid). This is Al Michaels-do-you-believe-in-miracles-type stuff.

“It was incredibly important. It turns the attention of the Americans’ sports fan and media on a tournament they might otherwise have not paid attention to. It’s one the biggest upsets in global sports history and certainly in world cricket.”

The 20-country World Cup is broken into four five-team groups.

 The Americans had a bad draw — stuck with Pakistan, fellow juggernaut India, Canada and Ireland. Only the top two advance. Now Team USA has a chance to get through to the West Indies stage if it beats favored Ireland on Friday. USA’s next match is in Long Island against heavily favored India.

“The U.S. is really well-positioned to get through the group stage,” Jones said. “The game vs. Ireland will be circled on many calendars.”

This is all well and good, but most Americans still have no idea how cricket is played, though it is a derivative of baseball. There are plenty of cricket teams in South Florida, including the oldest one, the Palm Beach Titans, which still plays on weekends at John Prince Park in Lake Worth Beach.

There are a couple of dozen clubs the Titans face from Miami to Port St. Lucie.

“We play off the beaten track,” former Palm Beach Titans president and captain Paul Ramikissoon said. “People may drive by and see 20 people in white pajamas running around and not realize what they are seeing.”

Here’s a five-step cricket primer as the sport comes to our region at the highest level.

What are cricket’s rules and terms?

Cricket was invented in England and used to be played in the United States long ago. The theory is that after the Revolutionary War, baseball was devised as a final break from the former mother country.

That is according to Todd Myers, the COO of Willow by Cricbuzz, which is the exclusive subscriber network in the U.S. and Canada carrying only cricket.

He’s happy to tell you the network is named Willow because the bat is made from a willow tree.

Cricket matches last about 3 ½ hours. Yes, like baseball, it could use a pitch clock.

There are 20 “overs” — which is another name for inning. This newer (T-20) format has each team getting 20 turns at bat with six balls delivered in each “over.”

So that is 120 balls being bowled across 20 “overs.” However, if a team makes 10 outs, it all ends. There are no alternating innings so a team can be up at the plate for 80 minutes.

Bowled is the word for “pitched.”  The matches are long because they play two 20 “overs.” That’s akin to a baseball team playing two nine-inning games.

There are 10 fielders plus a pitcher. The word for “out” is “wicket.” The ball is a little bigger and heavier than a baseball.

The bowler primarily bounces the ball to the batsmen but the batsman is allowed to hit a pitch on a fly if thrown that way.

The phrase for a home run is “six.” That’s because a team gets six runs for a home run. Aaron Jones hit a “six” in the Pakistani upset.

If you’re in a bar this weekend and cricket is on, you can tell a fellow imbiber the catcher is called “the wicketkeeper.” Wicketkeepers are the only fielders allowed to wear gloves. The other fielders go bare hands.

“You can tape an injured finger if it’s broken but that’s all,” Myers said. “They’re tough. They want to play. It’s not the NBA where if I have a hangnail, I can’t play.”

Why did ICC choose to hold this in Fort Lauderdale?

The three American sites are the Dallas area (Grand Prairie, Texas), Long Island’s Eisenhower Park in East Meadow and Broward Stadium. Dallas and Broward Stadium are a few of the only venues considered primarily cricket grounds. (Broward Stadium since has become multiuse with lots of soccer).

The World Cup spent $30 million to build a pop-up stadium in Eisenhower Park. There’s a huge Indian community nearby in Hicksville as well as Caribbean populations. New York was a natural. But why South Florida?

“There’s a lot of Jamaicans where cricket is huge but it’s the existing stadium that has hosted cricket international events before and is a nice, known entity,” Myers said. “They really wanted three U.S. venues. And they didn’t want to build another $30 million stadium to host four matches. And it’s easy to go to the Caribbean from there.”

Ramkissoon said a big boost to cricket in the U.S. came when in 2007 as the World Cup was being hosted by the West Indies. Fort Lauderdale posted a bond to build a cricket grounds and the rest is history.

“We couldn’t be more excited to show South Florida what international cricket is on the highest level,” Jones, of the ICC, said. “We’re psyched.”

Introducing the Palm Beach Cricket Team

The Palm Beach Titans began play in 1975 and they are still going strong. It’s always been a melting pot of players from faraway origins. The current squad is primarily from India. There also are players from the West Indies, Australia, Bangladesh and South Africa.

A reunion for all past players is being held in Palm Beach County in March. “All my chat groups were blowing up (Thursday after the upset),” Ramkissoon said. “But that reunion chat group was blowing up the best.”

It has always been a fight to find the space for its cricket games in John Prince Park and it started when it claimed an overflow parking lot.

Ramkissoon retired as president two years ago to move to St. Augustine. The current head is Ray Robinson.

Current Team USA batsman Steve Taylor never played for Palm Beach but faced the Titans many times. He’s the lone USA player from South Florida. He lived in Fort Lauderdale and had Jamaican parents.

Ramkissoon, who has Guyana roots, has tickets for the Ireland game and is taking his father for his 70th birthday. He’s also flying to Trinidad for the knockout stage and will be “live-gaming” his experiences.

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Ramkissoon is not as shocked as everyone else by the victories over Canada and Pakistan.

“Canada used to beat us regularly like a drum,” Ramkissoon said. “But we beat them earlier this year and then we beat the high-status Bangladesh national team for the first time ever. This has been on course for a while. This didn’t happen by accident.”

Schedule, tickets, TV

These are the four games at Broward Stadium:

June 11 — Sri Lanka vs. Nepal

June 14 — USA vs. Ireland

June 15 — India vs. Canada

June 16 — Pakistan vs. Ireland

Tickets are on sale at most secondary markets and on the ICC website. Games start at 10:30 a.m. with gates opening at 8:30 a.m. Inside, there’s a “Party Stand’’ event — an all-you-can-drink VIP tent on the grass banks of the stadium.

Willow is carried on Xfinity/Comcast’s umbrella on channels 3285 and 3101.

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