Florida: Sri Lanka and New Zealand will play the first cricket matches on U.S soil between two ICC full members this week-end, a move officials hope will launch a U.S boom for the sport.

“The historic event will provide great exposure,” USA Cricket Association president Gladstone Dainty said. “We're very excited about the potential impact of this series for the growth and development of cricket in the United States.”

Saturday and Sunday afternoon matches will be staged at Lauderhill's Central Broward Regional Park, the only ICC-approved venue in the USA.

The 20,000-capacity facility, which must still upgrade lighting to ICC standards in order to host night events, tried in vain to land a match ahead of the 2007 West Indies World Cup.

But with an India property developer sponsoring the Pearls Cup T20 matches and Indian Premier League officials talking about staging U.S events as early as 2011, the U.S breakthrough could be only a hint of greater things to come.

“We'll be meeting with potential investors and event developers to keep building our momentum,” USA Cricket chief executive Don Lockerbie said. More than 15 million people in the United States follow cricket and ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat has said he sees “vast potential for the growth of the sport in the USA.”

“It's massive now in the US,” New Zealand's Jacob Oram said. “There are a lot of cricket fans from India and Pakistan in this area, a lot from Caribbean. If they can tap into this market, it will get bigger and bigger.”

Plans for a US T20 league failed in the 1990s but USA Cricket hopes to organise a U.S T20 league as quickly as 2012.

“Given the door to cricket has been opened to investment through the sale of IPL franchises, this model is a logical step to raising the capital required to take cricket in the U.S to another level,” said NZC CEO Justin Vaughan. — AFP

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