How New York Cricket Stadium was Built in Record Time for India-Pakistan Match

Hyderabad: From August 2023, Don Lockerbie started getting anxious. The ICC has tasked him as a former Chief Executive of the United States Cricket Association which is now the venue development officer for the Men’s T20 World Cup 2024, to find a suitable venue in New York that could host matches in the marquee event.

Being a native New Yorker, Lockerbie had already fished around the obvious venues, which included Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, which has 12 existing cricket pitches. Eric Adams, New York City mayor, was keen on Van Cortlandt Park as a favorable venue, but the locals opposed the project strongly.

In November 2022, Chris Tetley, the ICC’s head of events, rang Lockerbie to shortlist potential venues in the US. They both had worked together on the 2007 ODI World Cup, earlier, which was held in the West Indies. For that tournament, Lockerbie was the Venue Development Officer and the Chief Development Officer. He has also been involved with the FIFA World Cup, 1994 in the USA, and Six Olympics, and is managing director of the hospitality Procurement Firm at the Parker Coming.

About the initial Chat with the ICC, he said, “The question was, well, how many venues in the United States?" The two venues that will host four World Cup matches, Florida and Grand Prairie in Dallas, each were ‘relatively small.’ "So maybe one major, larger venue that could really create a wow factor, you know, similar to what Major League Soccer would have done after the 1994 FIFA World Cup."

Lockerbie said that the city was the first major location taken into consideration as the International Olympic Committee has added cricket to the list of sports for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He went to one of the oldest cricket grounds in the country, Woodley Park in Van Nuys, California, in December 2022. The idea was to build a modular cricket stadium that could hold up to 25,000 spectators and might be used as a venue for the 2026 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

But it was not to be. The largest market for the sport is India, which is 12.5 hours ahead of Los Angeles, which is located on the west coast. However, according to Lockerbie, clearances turned out to be the larger roadblocks. An environmental impact study that would take longer than two years to complete was mandated by the park officials. Lockerbie moved on, having spent almost four months reviewing Woodley Park.

He was prepared to give up when Van Cortlandt Park in New York, didn’t work out either. Then, on or around August 20 of last year, he received a call from John Sulinski of the LandTek Group, which has constructed stadiums for Inter Miami FC, the New York Yankees, and the New York Mets.

"John's from Long Island," said Lockerbie. "'There's a piece of ground in a park that I think you guys should look at. It's got the right size. And more importantly, it has the right political interest. I think this is a go:' He told me" That plot of land was in Nassau County, Long Island's lush Eisenhower Park, which is just outside of New York City.

August of last year saw the official approach from the ICC to the county. On Labour Day weekend, September 4, county executive Bruce Bakeman gave a call to open Lockerbie and the ICC.

Lockerbie said with a big smile, “Boy did it work fast.”

"Boy did it work fast," Lockerbie said with a big smile. They showed interest right away. They were aware of the repercussions of a World Cup. Being outside of Manhattan and handling things oneself appealed to them.

"This is one of those impossible projects. They made it less impossible because they were able to work through all the machinations to give us the legal right to build a stadium in their park.”

The ICC and Nassau County officially signed a deal on November 17 of last year to host eight World Cup matches.

With more than 900 acres, Eisenhower Park is slightly larger than Central Park in New York. Lockerbie claims that the ICC will accommodate sponsors and VIP guests at its three golf courses, as well as several football fields, baseball, basketball, and tennis courts, an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool, ice hockey rinks, an amphitheater, lakes, and a five-star restaurant.

A 19-acre area of the main park that "was not very fancy" originally included the cricket pitch, which was just a strip for recreational games, according to Lockerbie. “There was no drainage on it. It did not have good irrigation. It was not a field constructed with expertise. Additionally, it was used as a parking lot for patrons attending performances at the amphitheater. It was an afterthought kind of field in a county that has probably a hundred parks."

The Nassau County International Stadium will eventually occupy 42 acres in the location that the ICC selected in order to handle multiple operational departments, such as broadcast, parking, and security.

With just more than a hundred days until the first World Cup warm-up game at the location on June 1, work on the site began on January 8 of this year, with actual building beginning on February 18. To plan the stadium, Populous, a well-known architecture and design firm worldwide, was brought in. They were joined by two other companies, Arena Americas and Alchemy International, which supply the infrastructure for international athletic events such as the Olympics, FIFA World Cups, Formula One, and PGA Golf.

Eisenhower Park will be the first international cricket field to be entirely modular, despite the grandstand at Old Trafford and other locations having temporary stands installed in the past. Six sections with two tiers each and six sections with one tier each will make up the stands at the new stadium.

Modular stadiums may be customized, and assembled quickly, and are mostly made of steel and aluminium rather than the concrete structures found at typical cricket facilities. The pop-up idea was chosen by the ICC to be the venue. This is a common practice in golf, Formula One, and even the Olympics. According to Tetley, some of the equipment used to build the stands at Eisenhower Park will be relocated following the World Cup from the Las Vegas Grand Prix.

The ICC had to search for a turnkey solution for the pitches at the new stadium due to the short timeframe. Fortunately, drop-in pitches in Australia and New Zealand have been used to play cricket successfully for more than ten years, due to which much research was not required to determine the options.

While Lockerbie was narrowing down his ideal large venue in the United States in June 2023, Adelaide Oval Turf Solutions, an Australian company that specializes in drop-in pitches, was contacted by the International Cricket Council (ICC). Head curator at Adelaide Oval and leader of the organization's Grounds team Damian Hough says his organisation quickly approved the ICC's plan.

Hough said that in order to help with the project, he required someone local who could provide information on the kind of soil and grass type that would work best for the pitches. Lockerbie connected Hough with Sulinski of LandTek, a company that had expertise in developing fields for American sports. Hough also involved another Australian, curator Dave Agnew, with the Dallas venue.

Hough's team received approval from the ICC by the end of September to construct six trays in Adelaide. These trays were subsequently shipped to the port of Savannah in Georgia and, in December, were transported by truck even further south to LandTek's plant in Florida. Grown in that facility, south of Palm Beach, all ten pitches were produced, four of which are currently in the center of Eisenhower Park stadium and six of which are used as practice pitches on a turf field close to the main field.

In May from New York, Hough said, “What we really like with the trays is, it's truly a modular system which streamlines everything from the costing to logistics." A tray is essentially a steel cage that encloses a pitch. This allows pitches to be moved to the location where they will be spread out and prepped in weather-friendly conditions. "The trays can be put into a container built at home [Adelaide] and shipped anywhere in the world. In this case, they ended up in Savannah, then in Boynton Beach.”

“Then there was the process of bolting the trays together, putting the matting in the bottom, and then the slow process of building the pitches, which comprises installation of the clay in layers and consolidating the layers. It was a really tight and short time frame between building them and using them. It was a five-month process."

According to Hough, cricket strips typically require a high percentage of clay in order to promote decent bounce and velocity. For the pitches in New York, he used the local BlackStick dirt kind, per Agnew's instruction. Hough claimed that BlackStick's high clay composition—more than 60%—made him feel at home because it is comparable to Adelaide Oval's clay content. Following conversations with LandTek and other stakeholders, Bermuda grass was selected as the grass of choice.

Hough said, "We knew the pitches weren't arriving [in the US] till early December."

"And we knew that early December in New York is freezing cold. So we couldn't grow the pitches in New York. [We were] relying on LandTek's experience and understanding of the environment. It started with 'Where's your warmest climate?' That's down in Florida. I sort of relate Florida to a Queensland sort of environment in our winter."

After the turf was installed, according to Hough, he took a plane to Florida in March to perform some "intense" rolling and examine various aspects of the pitches, including their structure, the depth of the grass's roots, and the density of each layer.

The trays containing the pitches were transported from Florida to New York in April. Twenty-two trucks from DP World, a worldwide supply chain and logistics firm and one of the ICC's sponsors, were sent on the two-day, approximately 1200-mile trip.

Hough and Lockerbie both exhaled a breath of relief when the pitches at Eisenhower Park were set. "This was the biggest fear I had for the entire project," Lockerbie said. "Because if that project failed - moving the wickets to New York and putting them in - then I might as well not finish the stadium, because you can't play on bad wickets."

Hough ranks the New York job among his most difficult assignments, along with preparing Adelaide Oval for cricket's first day-night Test in 2015, five days after the venue had played host to an AC/DC concert, and hosting the 2013 Ashes Test right after the venue had experimented with drop-in pitches for the first time in its more than 140-year history.

Hough refrained from making predictions about the type of pitches and scores at the recently established facility during recent media appearances. "Our ambition is to produce good-quality pitches - you know, minimal spin, minimal seam, the ball coming onto the bat, and let the players play the shots," he said on a call organized by the ICC at the end of April.

Tetley stated during a media conference earlier in May that Eisenhower Park is not a "token-sized" playing surface. He pointed out that the playing area is the same size as the Wankhede, the Oval, or the Gabba. The square's perimeter extends approximately 68 meters to the east and west and 61 meters to the north and south from its center.

The ICC is hoping that USA Cricket, including the MLC, as well as Nassau County will use the Eisenhower Park pitch. This is in contrast to other, static stadiums that occasionally turn into ghostly shells following international athletic events like World Cups and Olympics. Could this idea end up serving as a model for cricket in the United States of America?

Lockerbie is bullish. "The lovely thing about this is that I've pushed the MLC's ownership group to develop [scalable] stadiums as the league expands. With the intention of expanding for large events, they can hold 7,000–12,000 seats. If we design it correctly today, there won't be any issues going forward to convert the permanent 10,000-seat stadium to a 20,000–25,000-seat stadium as needed, should the World Cup ever return to the United States and all the venues be in the United States, as FIFA would do.”

"What we're showing everybody is that, if F1 can do it and golf does it, and you have triple-decker suites and hospitality sections, or you have 40-row grandstand sections that can be built in a hundred days, honestly, cricket could expand its horizons and build these type of venues in iconic locations everywhere around the world."

According to Lockerbie, future Under-19 World Cups might be conducted at modular venues that are less expensive to build in areas where they could draw more people, rather than in massive cricket stadiums with small attendance. "That's what golf does every week," remarked the man. "You know, they start out there, develop over several weeks, and then they disappear. Tennis season starts a few weeks early in Miami, followed by Formula One racing and [American] football season. It's the same in Las Vegas. Only need to discover how other sports have achieved the seemingly unachievable."

The cricketing world will be watching New York on June 9. Apart from the 34,000 spectators present at the location, hundreds of millions more will witness India vs. Pakistan, which is among the most viewed events worldwide, second only to the USA Super Bowl and the Olympic 100-meter track final.

Among the most ambitious initiatives the ICC has ever undertaken is the creation of the venue in New York. During a media conference, Tetley stated that the ICC would benefit from a well-run World Cup in the United States, which would enable cricket to return to the Olympics in Los Angeles for the first time since the 1904 Games.

Lockerbie said that although there will be intense scrutiny, people should be aware of what he, his team, and Hough have accomplished in a hurry.

"I was speaking with a member of the PGA [golf] tour who had just visited Eisenhower Park. This individual is in charge of erecting the press boxes, grandstands, tents, and hospitality areas. Additionally, he has two to four years to prepare for every event on the PGA Tour. They are already planning what they will do in 2028 for the Ryder Cup. We've had around five or six months."

"My team's been responsible for the bones of this project. Now comes the soul: that's the fans, that's the players, that's the drums, the DJs, the pyro. That's folks being wowed by what they see and feeling passionate about the sport."

Looking back to September 2023, he could not believe he was seated in front of an Eisenhower Park cricket ground that was ready to play. "We almost lost New York," he said. This venue almost wasn't available to us. And everyone assumed we were just going to wrap a rope around an already-existing strip and add a few little stands.

It's evident from the background that this photo was taken two days earlier. It's quite important. It's a beautiful monster, I call it."

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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