Fifth in the DreamCricket.com series on USA's best cricket grounds
Click here for the first, second, third and fourth articles in this series, which explores the best grounds in USA selected on the basis of the ground's setting, the passion that went into creating the ground, and the pitch and outfield quality. If you know of more grounds - private or public - please email us at content @ dreamcricket . com
By Peter Simunovich
David Sentance has a deep and strong relationship with the Leo Magnus Cricket Complex also known as the Woodley Cricket Field in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley, about 20 miles from Los Angeles in California. He fondly talks about the lush grass and how batsmen can play their full range of shots on four natural turf pitches with large outfields that best serve medium fast and spin bowlers.
Sentance, a 57-year-old investment firm owner, proudly boasts how Woodley Cricket Field can host four matches each Saturday and Sunday over summer and up to eight games if the schedule has T20 games.
For the past 33 years he has been involved in cricket in the Los Angeles area since he moved there from England and is somewhat of a historian about the game and Woodley Cricket Field, which is acknowledged as the best in the US.
"The ground is just so beautiful," Sentance told DreamCricket.com. "It is dedicated to cricket and no other sport is played there."
Fast bowler Franklyn Rose, who played 19 Tests with the West Indies and now plays with Corinthians Cricket Club in the Southern California Cricket Association, also has a strong affiliation for Woodley Cricket Field.
He said: "It has the best cricket field facilities in the US. There is no comparison. I have played around the world and it is first class. It is good for batting and bowling. If you are good enough you will get runs and wickets."
Steve Massiah, the US senior captain, also has a soft spot for the field. He said: "Woodley is really good for batting and has wonderful pitches. I have scored a century and quite a few 50s there. The wickets are very conducive for batsmen and there is something for the bowlers.
"It is a beautiful field and I strongly endorse it."
Carl McGroggan, the secretary of the Southern California Cricket Association and an all-rounder with the British and Dominion Cricket Club, which plays at Woodley Cricket Field, said the fields were very well maintained. He said David Heaney, a grounds man from Adelaide, Australia, was flown in each year to work full time at the field from March to September to make sure it had the best surface in the country.
Woodley Cricket Field, which is the home field for 20 teams, said McGroggan, had the feel of a district cricket club in Australia. It has a small stand, which can seat 50 and a clubhouse with bathrooms.
Sentance said that Woodley Cricket Field would be complete if it had the same pavilion at Griffith Park in Burbank where cricket was played before.
The old Griffith Park pavilion is now used for wedding receptions. Cricket was played at Griffith Park on a turf wicket with a matting cover from 1933 to 1978 and the one-floor 2,000 sq. ft. pavilion was well maintained with showers, lockers, a clock tower, a verandah to watch the matches. It had two fields and a practice area, said Sentance. There was also a courtyard behind the pavilion, which housed mowers and other machinery to keep the field in grade one condition.
"It was a very exciting facility with the Union Jack flying high," he said.
In the 1930s, acknowledged as the golden era of Hollywood, some of entertainment's A list headed by Boris Karloff, Merle Oberon, Olivia de Havilland, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, John and Lionel Barrymore, Errol Flynn and Elsa Lanchester would watch cricket at Griffith Park. "Back then it was a place to be seen," said Sentance.
And in those days Griffith Field was surrounded by stables for horses taking part in equestrian events.
In 1978, said Sentance, the equestrian fraternity wanted to take over the Griffith Park field. Part of the reason was the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and equestrian events and polo were on the drawing boards to be held in the immediate area.
The cricket family strongly objected to the move and for two years, said Sentance, negotiations took place with local council authorities before it was decided that the game could move to what is now Woodley Cricket Field.
It took another four years for trees to be removed and the field to be laid properly for cricket. The game, however, did not miss a beat with matches still being played at Griffith Field and at the University of California at Los Angeles.
In 1980, Sentance recalled, there was an opening day at Woodley Field with boy scouts taking part.
The cricket complex is named after Leo "Jingles" Magnus, the former Jamaican cricketer who played for Southern California, coached Compton Cricket Club and spent a lifetime making contributions to the sport he loved. The field is also called Woodley cricket field because of the street it is on.
The late Claude Worrell, an attorney, played a lead role during this time in securing a new home for cricket. Sentance said that Worrell worked hard and he would strongly endorse any move to have his efforts remembered in some capacity.
India and Australia played four limited over matches at Woodley Cricket Field in 1999 and attracted 5,000 for one game.
Over the years Woodley Cricket Field and Griffith Park have hosted Australia and India international teams, English County sides, Canada, New Zealand and top Pakistan and West Indies club teams.
Woodley Field may not have the deep seated tradition of Test venues in cricket playing countries nor does it have the capacity to seat large crowds, but to players and administrators in the US it is a little gem of a field.
"In a way it is our Lord's," said Sentance.
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