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American ProCricket Game 1: Freedom Rules

By Gaurang
July 7 2004

Freedom reigned on this 4th of July weekend as the San Francisco Freedom handily defeated the Texas Arrow Heads in the first ever ProCricket game in the San Francisco Bay Area, overcoming the modest Texas effort of 124 for 9 off 20 overs in just 13 overs and the loss of only a couple of wickets. The stars for the Freedom were Northern California local Naveed and Indian Ranji player Tushar Arothe. Naveed smashed a 12-ball 42 including 5 sixes, three of them in a row, before holing out going for yet another. Arothe remained unbeaten at 43 off 25 odd deliveries, though he too hit a couple of massive straight sixes, one of which nearly went through the goal post at the Golden Gate Park end.

The game took place at the storied Kezar Stadium, the venerable old stadium of the University of California San Francisco, which has seen its share of college football, not to mention NFL glory as the home of the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL who played in its cozy confines from the mid 1940s to 1970. Though recently, Kezar was better known as the home of the Stingrays of the short-lived Women's Pro Football league.

First a word about the setting. The stadium is in the very heart of San Francisco, a stone's throw from the famous Haight Ashbury district, and on the periphery of the largest urban park in the United States. The setting couldn't have been more salubrious, despite the typical San Francisco chill and a hint of fog making it not quite T-shirt weather.

The crowd started filtering in around 6 pm, although the announced start time was 7 pm. This was good, as the game actually started early at around 6:30 pm, when the lights were switched on. By 7 pm, the crowd had reached about 500. In the 20,000 capacity sized stadium it looked quite small, but it was a decent showing, especially considering the little outreach and publicity that had been done.

The crowd was mostly desi, with an equal mix of Indians and Pakistanis. There were however a smattering of Aussies, Brits and yes even "Americans". The crowd had a fair number of families with women and children, which was heartening to see.

The game got underway with Texas batting first and getting a big partnership between Darren Ganga (recently of the West Indies team) and a local player. They put on about 70 runs between them, before Ganga was dismissed. The San Francisco Team opened its bowling with Mervyn Dillon and Wavell Hinds, both also recently part of the Windies. Mervyn was bowling at half pace, while Hinds was bowling his normal trundlers. The most successful bowler turned out to be one Ramesh from the local leagues who took 4 wickets, though he was also smashed for 30 odd runs off his 4 overs. However in general there were no major fireworks from Texas, and Larry Gomes, the ex-Windies Test star, was quite sedate on his turn with the bat, falling to a smart stumping by the local wicket keeper off Ramesh at just 7 off 10 or so balls.

The Texas total of 124 was woefully inadequate, especially after Naveed got going. One expected Wavell Hinds to open the innings, but he didn’t come in to bat until the fall of the second wicket, after 90 odd was already on the board. Even then he batted very sedately and hardly hit a ball in aggression, especially against Larry Gomes who bowled decently, and against Australian Colin Miller, who was bowling to VVS Laxman just a few years ago. But after the start they got, where 65 was scored in 4 overs, the Freedom coasted home in 13 overs.

The lack of real competitive bite was the biggest negative of the whole evening. Never did it appear, except when Naveed took on the bowling, that there was anything more than half-hearted ennui among the players, especially the so-called “stars”. This is likely to be the downfall of the league, if not rectified soon. Aside from this, no effort was made to market the “stars” who seemed almost embarrassed to be there, another glaring flaw. The pace of the game was quite good and the whole game lasted a little under 3 hours. One telling comment was from an American who candidly admitted, “things can be much slower at a baseball game”.

The positives were the enthusiasm of the crowd, which was a good mix of knowledgeable cricket addicts and newbies. It was good to hear light-hearted heckling as in "Chal Tushar Mar" when Arothe slowed down after the fall of Naveed, or "Arothe hum Bore Hote" at the same juncture. Tushar responded by plonking a six into that section of the crowd, where a young fan bare handed the catch nonchalently with just his right hand and tossed the ball back to the fielder, causing a hearty laugh. The explanations I heard from people in-the-know trying to initiate the newcomers were also both hilarious and heartening.

Another positive was the ongoing commentary over the Public Announcement system, which was a good idea. The ground had a rudimentary electronic scoreboard that provided the total and the overs bowled. But the commentator kept the crowd fully updated about who was bowling and batting, the scores of the players, the bowling figures, the run rate, and even provided some pointers on strategy that the fielding captain may be considering!

The colorful uniforms and the white balls were good, as was the lighting and the ground itself. Next time a Pavilion Tent for the players, who were left to sit out in the open to figuratively and literally “chill” out, would be useful, but that was not an essential flaw.

The tickets price of $6.95 is appropriate for the entertainment provided, and the idea of putting the future schedule of games on the tickets was a nice marketing ploy. The potential is there for long term success, but the league needs to market its product more aggressively and make a greater effort at outreach. After the game in preparation for writing this report, I tried to check the scores of the game on the website, but that has not been updated. This needs immediate attention. However, since this was the first game, I’d give the organizers and the league more time. I plan to return at the next opportunity.

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