With this series, cricket will make yet another attempt to foray into the huge untapped market of USA  © Getty Images
With this series, cricket will make yet another attempt to foray into the huge untapped market of USA © Getty Images

Rewind to 1996. The Sahara ‘Friendship’ Cup between India and Pakistan was played more than 7,000 miles away from the rival countries — in Toronto, Canada. Far from the hustle and bustle of the maidans of Mumbai and Lahore, cricket made a quiet entry into an untapped market. As the name suggested, the series was indeed played in a friendly environment on the field. The fans from both the countries, who were mostly expatriates, also enjoyed the game, co-existing together in the stands in an unusually peaceful manner. The tournament, won by Pakistan in 1996, was played two more times in the country in the following years, before it made exit from the country just the same way it had entered; quietly. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs West Indies, 1st T20I, Lauderhill

The most striking thing about this series, which was a result of the political tension between two countries, was that it helped cricket break new barriers and reach to a country where ice hockey, lacrosse, football, basketball, curling and baseball were the most followed sports and cricket a completely alien entity. Also the possibilities of cricket entering Canada’s neighbouring country and the biggest untapped market — United States of America (USA) seemed realistic after this series. Quite ironical it is, for here, we are discussing two countries, which officially played the first-ever international cricket match in the year 1844. But cricket lost its way somewhere in these countries over the years. READ: United States take on Canada in the first ever international cricket match

Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne made a valiant attempt to bring cricket to the USA with their Cricket All-Stars league in 2015. But with old stars playing in a format not so like them, it was way too much of expecting from an American fan to give acceptance to cricket. If cricket indeed wanted to make a foray in the USA, the best in the business were required to be showcased there, not the old guards, who could only inspire nostalgia for handful of expatriates but create excitement for the game. The likes of Kohlis, Gayles and de Villiers involved in a high-octane game of cricket could have made some impact or played a role in creating new fan base in an unknown territory. And so is happening now. READ: Celebrated teams, flamboyant cricketers, shortest form of cricket: India, West Indies set to dazzle at Florida – Preview

On August 27 and 28, the two T20Is to be played between top ranked sides West Indies and India at the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida will mark the beginning of a new era for the sport in cricket agnostic USA, which will become the 19th country on this planet where India will play an international cricket match. Yes, for the lovers of statistics, India are all set to create a world record when they set their feet on the American soil to play the first T20I, which will see them play a cricket match in 19th country in their cricketing history of 84 years. Before them, only Sri Lanka have played international cricket in 19 countries, with archrivals Pakistan following closely with 18 countries and West Indies in 17.

The match will also see India play international cricket in ninth non Test-playing nation after United Arab Emirates (UAE), Canada, Singapore, Kenya, Malaysia, Netherlands, Scotland and Ireland. Besides, it will also be India’s first bilateral series at a neutral venue in last nine years since it played South Africa in a three-match ODI series at Belfast, Ireland in 2007.

Coming back to the series, there could not have been a better advert of the sport in the USA than World T20 champs West Indies and cricket’s hot favourite side India taking on each other. The recent rivalry between the two teams only adds to the significance of the contest. While India beat a depleted West Indies side 2-0 to win the Test series, the return of West Indies’ T20 stars, or the specialists, makes them the top contender for this short series.

There is a huge buzz in Florida for this series. While an average Indian fan must be expecting the match to be played on a baseball ground in conditions much similar to the ones during Cricket All-Stars, the reality is far from it. The conditions are conducive for two terrific games of cricket, so much so that they even stumped Team India’s head coach Anil Kumble, who was also surprised to see the facilities at the ground and was hopeful that the series will kick-start cricket in the USA.

“Well, certainly didn’t expect the facilities to be as good as what it is here. I had heard about Florida and this ground, but I’m very impressed with the facilities that we have seen today. It is the first time I am seeing this ground and the wickets are good, ideal probably for a T20. The practice facilities, too, are good and the outfield is fantastic. All in all, really impressed with the way facilities are here,” said Kumble after he visited the ground. The legendary spinner further added, “At least a start has been made. India is looking forward to next couple of days over the weekend. I’m sure the ground will be packed. From an Indian perspective, we are looking forward to these T20 games against the West Indies.”

If all goes well, Kumble’s words might come true. Indian skipper MS Dhoni, who has travelled over 14,000 kms just to play these two games, also echoed similar sentiments. “Looking at everything, it is a perfect staging ground. Few of other international teams have already played here, also not to forget that some of the T20 leagues have happened. The infrastructure looks good. Overall it is a big occasion. Stepping into the USA for the first time as the Indian cricket team. I feel it is a good start. The timings (broadcast) are also good. It feels good to be here. Earlier people living in US used to travel to the the West Indies to support us but now they have the opportunity to catch the action here itself,” said the captain cool on the eve of the match.

The stage is set now! Fate of this game in ‘Uncle Sam’s territory’ now rests to a large extent on how these two games pan out.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)