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Lauderhill prepares to welcome cricket's big boys

Local Indian fans don't seem to mind the high ticket prices for the two T20Is in Lauderhill Peter Della Penna

For the last decade, and probably longer, administrators in the United States of America have sung a familiar refrain to validate the country's latent market potential, one that almost always traces back to every host nation's most desirable suitor: "If India showed up and played team X here, it would be a sell-out."

This weekend is an opportunity to test that hypothesis. In a historic maiden official visit to American shores, India take on World T20 champions West Indies in two Twenty20 Internationals at the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida.

The BCCI's online marketing machine has been on overdrive in the build-up to the weekend. #TeamIndiaInUSA has been used to generate online buzz from several high-profile athletes. Among them are New York Mets All-Star pitcher Noah Syndergaard, Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver of Denver Broncos, the Pro-Bowl Super Bowl champion, and a host of UFC fighting superstars. The illusion is as though cricket is making a major crossover into the American mainstream.

However, this isn't necessarily the first Indian touring side to go to America.

Sunil Gavaskar played exhibition matches regularly in the 1970s and '80s with an India XI, mostly at makeshift venues. As recently as 1999, an India A side played five 50-over matches against Australia A in Los Angeles. The sides were captained by VVS Laxman and Adam Gilchrist, with the India line-up also featuring Harbhajan Singh. Television footage that survives show an uninspiring brand of cricket played out on under-prepared pitches in front of mostly empty stands.

What makes this visit unique and historic is that it's the first full-strength BCCI sponsored side sent to America, for a series that wasn't on the cricket calendar till a month ago. The haste with which these matches have been arranged has been matched by a seemingly insatiable demand due to the scarcity of the product.

Capacity for the venue was capped at 15,000, and the delay in launching ticket sales managed to make Indian fans' appetites more ravenous. Unprecedented traffic on the official ticket-seller's website forced a crash, only for them to restore services days later, but that hasn't dimmed the excitement.

The tickets, however, come at some price. VIP seats have been priced at USD 250, just 25 more than the commensurate rate for the Caribbean Premier League, but basic uncovered bleacher mound tickets have been set at USD 100. Chair-back seats in the covered grandstand have been priced at USD 150, five times what that section was priced at for the CPL last month. It's a hefty but justifiable price many fans will pay to take in the day, going by the demand.

"I didn't even think about it," said Vishal Ghadia, an Indian-American who has been living in Fort Lauderdale for the last 16 years. "This is the first time India is coming here, first time ever. I'm going to tell my grandkids I was here when India first played in USA."

Ghadia and four of his Ahmedabad-origin friends have grandstand tickets for both days. Despite living locally, all of them booked rooms at the same hotel where the India and West Indies teams are staying, just to get a glimpse of and a selfie with the players. While they readily acknowledge their passion comes at a price, and insist they would have paid up to USD 500 per day for the weekend. Whether they are the exception or the rule remains to be seen, but the mini-circus scenes that have played out with eager fans in the teams' hotel lobby and the broader build-up to the event seem to suggest the latter.