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April 2, 2024 Martin Halo

Creating the perfect stadium, playing surface critical to June’s T20 World Cup cricket match on Long Island


By Nicholas Spangler
March 31, 2024

When International Cricket Council officials decided several years ago to hold part of the 2024 World Cup in the New York City area, they faced a problem: There was nowhere to play. The region has baseball, football, and soccer stadiums in abundance, but when it comes to cricket, “There isn’t one,” said Chris Tetley, the ICC’s Head of Events.

Because a batsman can hit the ball in any direction, cricket is a “360-degree sport,” requiring a different stadium configuration than its baseball cousin, Tetley said. There is also the matter of size: ICC regulations for this version of cricket require a round or oval field around no less than 195 feet and no greater than 270 feet from the center pitch to the outer boundary.

Tetley counted just two existing large-scale cricket venues nationwide: one in Florida and another, a converted minor league baseball field, in Texas.

Organizers of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup are building a pop-up stadium because there were few brick-and-mortar options in the United States configured for the game’s playing surface. The pitches, where bowling and batting happen, are being built in Florida and will be trucked to Long Island in the coming weeks.

The temporary seating being put up was previously used at other major sporting events. Hence the temporary 34,000-seat facility now sprouting on a 19-acre site in Nassau County’s Eisenhower Park. Its steel lattice consists of tens of thousands of steel girders trucked in from across the country and assembled into 40 rows of seating up to 75 feet high, according to the project designers. The ground below is laced with channels and trenches capable of draining thousands of gallons of water.

T20 World Cup cricket match

Still to come is the 200,000-square-foot field, roughly 510 feet across. The pitches, where bowling and batting happen, are being built in Florida and will be trucked to Long Island in the coming weeks, to be dropped by crane in the middle of the field. Construction of the T20 World Cup cricket stadium in Eisenhower Park on March 22.

T20 World Cup USA, the nonprofit hosting the tournament’s U.S. games, is responsible for all stadium construction and maintenance costs. A spokesman for the organization, Mark Jones, said in an email that the venue represented a “sizable investment” but declined to give the cost. T20 World Cup’s agreement with Nassau County gives the organization up until May 31 to finish construction and until July 31 to finish stadium breakdown. The playing surface, which will be used for eight matches from June 3 to June 12, will be left in place after the Cup for use by local cricketers. T20 is a television-friendly version of the game that takes about three hours to play — an abbreviation of its traditional forebear, test cricket, whose matches last days. The Eisenhower Park facility, dubbed the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in tournament promotions, will feature a June 9 showdown between cricket powerhouses India and Pakistan.

Temporary stadium with elite standards Organizers tapped the architects from international firm Populous to design the venue. The firm is known for sports projects including Yankee Stadium, a coming redesign of Belmont Park, and eight international cricket stadiums. One facility, the 110,000-seat Narendra Modi Stadium in Gujarat, India, is the world’s largest for cricket.

Jeff Keas, project architect for the Eisenhower Park stadium, said organizers considered several sites before homing in on the park’s Field 6, which was one of the few places big enough to hold not just a cricket oval but also the attendant infrastructure of international cricket, which, like most professional sports, includes expensive hospitality suites, media work areas, and concessions. “In a permanent facility, we could stack these things — put the toilets underneath, the concourses underneath,” Keas said. “When it’s temporary, it all has to lay out,” taking a bigger footprint.

The geography of the site imposed limitations, too, he said, because features like a row of trees and the county’s aquatic center could not be moved. Then there were limitations imposed by the game itself: Cricket pitches, like the playing fields for most outdoor sports, tend to be laid out north-south. “If you were to rotate the field more east-west, and, say, you’re playing a game in the late afternoon, with the sun setting, then; the batsman would be blinded by the low sun,” Keas said. Because cricket plays to a global television audience, the stadium had to accommodate at least 36 cameras, Tetley said. They are typically stationed behind the north and south ends of the pitch, at the sides and at elevation, though none could be placed in such a way that they would impede the sight of any in-person fan. Because those fans have come to expect replays at live events, the design also calls for giant view screens behind the east and west ends of the field, he said. Keas said the stadium material came from a company called Arena, which he said rents materials for temporary stadiums all over the world. Girders and other material used at Eisenhower previously have been used for a Formula 1 auto race in Las Vegas and golf tournaments, including the Players Championship, he said. Arena did not respond to a request for comment.

He compared the material, some of which could be spotted in recent weeks stacked near the field or in nearby parking lots, to the stuff of Ikea or Lego. “We’ve just taken the component pieces … and assembled it in a creative and innovative way.” In recent weeks, workers could be seen assembling massive sections of seating with the aid of a forklift. When the stadium is finished, Keas said, the general admissions seating will be complemented by luxury options including “cabanas, loge boxes, horseshoe boxes, and party decks.”

At least one union has argued — loudly, in the middle of a news conference with Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and others — that the workers building the stadium should be union. “We are furious that we got boxed out of a project in a park we grew up in,” said Vincent Alu, business manager of General Building Laborers Local Union 66, outside the news conference earlier this month Alu, in a phone interview this week, said 10 union workers had been hired and five more soon to be added. “T20 USA continues to have constructive dialogue with our partners in Nassau County and the surrounding region, as well as the local labor leadership, and we’re confident we can address any concerns or challenges as we continue apace to host the ICC T20 Men’s World Cup in Nassau County this summer,” T20 USA CEO Brett Jones said in an emailed statement.

Meanwhile, Bay Shore-based LandTek Group, which built the field drainage system, has been preparing the playing surface: Kentucky bluegrass for the outfield and soft Tahoma bermudagrass for the pitches, chief operating officer John Sulinski said. Its work includes preparation, construction, and maintenance of a 200,000-square-foot turf playing surface and drainage system. The cricket pitch is where the bowler delivers the ball, generally off the bounce. It is where batsmen run and wicketkeepers stand guard. For these reasons, its surface needs to be hard, durable, and free of timing-wrecking defect. LandTek, whose previous work includes a rebuild of Citi Field and dozens of school and municipal field projects across Long Island, is building its pitches in trays it bought from a company in Australia and shipped to the Boynton Beach base of its Florida division, LTG Sports Turf One. “Each tray is 10 by 82 feet” and six inches deep, Sulinski said. “We followed a process of layering in clay, adding moisture and compacting.” The soil composition, which affects playability, is proprietary, Sulinski said. Workers washed the bermudagrass sod before they laid it on the clay to remove contaminants and promote better mating with the clay.

T20 World Cup cricket match

LandTek’s team includes men who have prepared NFL fields, but for this project, the company consulted with Damian Hough, an Australian who is one of the world’s premier cricket groundskeepers. Hough could not be reached for comment. LandTek workers are scheduled to begin laser grading turfing the Eisenhower outfield in late April. In early May, they are scheduled to take delivery of the pitch trays, which will have been growing in the Florida heat for months. They will travel north in a 24-truck convoy. When they arrive, they will be dropped into place by crane, four on the playing field, six at a nearby practice facility. Cricket uses one pitch at a time, but the extras will give organizers the freedom to rotate play over the Cup’s Nassau fortnight. Growth blankets and heating elements will insulate the precious blades from the shock of transplantation to Long Island’s cooler climate. When the trays are in place, workers will mow the pitch grass lower and lower until it is about 3/8ths of an inch before match play. Progression of the cut is key: “Do it too fast, and you can ruin everything we worked for,” Sulinski said.

They also will compact its clay under specialty drum rollers. Each pitch roller weighs 1 to 3 tons, Sulinski said. The clay should be compacted to make the surface hard and true but “not so compacted it can’t accept moisture or have space for the grassroots to grow in,” he said. Before the grass is deemed suitable for Cup play, it will be tested for ball rebound, rotation, and roll, and the soil below will be tested for compaction and permeability, Sulinski said. “There will be a tremendous amount of activity in a short amount of time,” he said. “We will be ready.” All this work is intended to produce a playing surface that is consistent and holds up to the rigors of Cup play but plays not quite like any other pitch in the world, the ICC’s Tetley said. “The ball bowler might bowl fast, he might bowl slow, he might try to swing the ball,” he said. “In some places, you might generally have fast pitches where you know the ball is going to bounce high because it comes off the pitch quickly. In other places, you know the ball will spin because it’s slightly dustier, sandier, so there’s a bit more grit when the ball hits the ground and it can deviate more. What that means for the sport is you don’t get a cookie-cutter playing arena. What we’re after is a good, true surface.”