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South Florida hosts first sanctioned cricket match

For the first time in weeks, Wade, Bosh and James were not in the South Florida sports spotlight.

Saturday, when 16,000 sports fans packed Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, it was all about cricket superstars like Dwayne Bravo and Chris Gayle of the West Indies team and Doug Bracewell and Dean Brownlie of New Zealand.

And it was about making cricket history. This weekend’s competition is the first official professional cricket match to be played in the United States. Points will count toward who goes to the Cricket World Cup later this year in Sri Lanka.

“It’s absolutely amazing to be here for the first official game in the United States, and there’s no place better to celebrate than in South Florida,” said fan Navin Sukhram, of New York City.

Thousands like Sukhram traveled from far and wide, but many of the fans live right in Broward County.

“We want to bring cricket to the entire United States,” said Rudy Ramlochan, of Pembroke Pines.

Manas Mohamed, general manager for the USA Cricket Association, said it makes sense to have the venue in South Florida. Greater Fort Lauderdale is home to the largest Caribbean communities in the United States, with more than 500,000 in Broward and Palm Beach alone.

When Mohamed came to the United States from Guyana 38 years ago hardly anyone played the game. Now, South Florida boasts two leagues and 48 teams. Nationwide, there are 48 leagues and 1,100 clubs.

For the uninitiated: Cricket, likely dates to 16th century England. It is a bat, ball and base game where the batter is called a batsman, the pitcher is a bowler, bases are wickets and the field is called a pitch. Some call it the mother of American baseball.

Runs are scored in many ways but the most common ways to win points are when the batsmen are able to run between the wickets after the ball is hit; if the ball travels outside the playing area or if the ball goes outside the field without touching the ground.

Cricket is the second most watched sport in the world, behind only soccer. In the nations where it is played, it is more popular than baseball, football and basketball combined.

Central Broward Regional Park has the only International Cricket Council-approved stadium in the nation.

“That’s why Lauderhill is the cricket capital of the United States,” said Leslie Johnson, spokeswoman and operations manager for the city of Lauderhill.

The first organized cricket event played at the $70 million stadium was a 2008 tournament featuring local players. In 2010, an exhibition game between ICC top tier teams New Zealand and Sri Lanka packed the place with fans.

The scene Saturday seemed a marriage of traditional U.S. fandom and international cultural fun. Tailgaters gathered in the parking lot, but instead of Budweiser and burgers, cricket lovers downed single barrel rum and pelou with rice, peas and smoked turkey.

“We’re having a lime, telling jokes and waiting for cricket to begin,’’ said Neil Guerin, of Plantation. (“Having a lime” refers to Trinidadian colonial days when British sailors would hang out and drink rum with lime juice.)

“The only thing missing is the calypso music,” Guerin said.

But there was plenty of that inside.

Fans with percussion instruments, including steel drums, sounded island rhythms while fans waved flags from countries worldwide and homemade posters for their favorite teams and players.

Hecklers heckled. Beer flowed. T-shirts and hats were hawked. Cheers erupted.

Even fans of the losing team — New Zealand lost to West Indies by 56 runs — had a good time.

“God bless America,” said Ross Paterson, of North Shore, New Zealand, caped in his nation’s flag and sipping a Red Stripe beer.e