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Don’t call it a home run: Two Americans experience cricket for the first time

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At full capacity, the temporary Nassau County International Cricket Stadium can house 34,000 fans – and it was almost packed when India took on Pakistan in the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup on Sunday.

As cricket rookies, we didn’t expect the number of people that we saw in Eisenhower Park on Long Island in New York. We had no idea there were that many cricket fans in the US, a country that is relatively new to the game.

However, we had known that the India v Pakistan game would pit the sport’s biggest rivals against each other.

With geopolitical tension and a long history between the two sides, we weren’t sure what to expect.

There was a sense of respect among both sides, though: India fans, who far outnumbered those supporting Pakistan, were mostly kind in their comments on the skill shown by the opposing team, while Pakistan supporters were gracious when India won.

An India fan told The National after the game that “both teams are great”, adding, however, that “India is the best”.

In conversations around the stadium, which was built in only a few months, most fans seemed to be talking about how new the grass was and as such how it would affect the outcome of the game – interesting to us, as it’s not something one hears when walking into a Yankees or Giants game.

Usman Khan, a Pakistan fan and recreational cricket player from New Jersey, told The National that “it is very uncertain; the pitches are uncertain”, but he said he believed it would be “a good match”.

We tried to learn cricket through YouTube videos, making comparisons to baseball. Those around us were happy to explain the game, however, and share updates on how the match was going.

Fans who spoke to The National were elated to have the T20 World Cup tournament in New York, because of the large Indian community in New Jersey and Pakistani community in New York City.

“In New York and New Jersey, there are lots of Indian people. So salute [to] the USA government, the Biden government, they organised this in USA, the ICC Cricket World Cup, so people can watch,” Chetan Pathak told us.

“This is like our home, USA and New York, so I love it.”

Tickets were not cheap – one fan told The National they had risen upwards of $1,000 in the days leading up to the match – and were hard to come by.

Some devoted fans still travelled hours to the stadium and spent time in a grassy area right outside the entry gates, huddling under trees when it rained.

It was strange for us not to see the event projected on TV screens for fans outside, which is common at American sporting events.

A few fans were able to catch a partial view of a stadium TV screen, but others followed the match on their phones.

Security measures were certainly heightened and somewhat confusing to navigate in the area on Sunday, due to concerns over possible terrorist attacks, with ISIS-K having previously stated its aims of hitting the major sporting event.

Roads closest to the arena were blocked off. Police officers – even a militarised Nassau County police tank – with large rifles were seen at the entrance to the sport arena.

There was a moment when officers briefly halted fan entry into the stadium to investigate an Amazon package, but it ended up being a false alarm.

Fans expressed hope that the game popular in much of the English-speaking world might finally catch Americans’ attention, with the US hosting the T20 tournament in Dallas, Texas and Florida, in addition to New York, and after Team USA won a match days earlier.

“I think if America makes it, that’s going to be a good sign for the country and itself because, you know, the cricket over here is actually growing. I’m very happy for that,” Mr Khan told The National.

A neighbourhood restaurant right off the Eisenhower Park perimeter did not have the India v Pakistan cricket match on any of its many televisions on Sunday, however, despite the game taking place metres away.

But staff there probably learnt a thing or two about cricket after the match, when India fans in the mood to celebrate poured into the establishment to cool off.

So, did attending the T20 World Cup turn us into diehard cricket followers? Not exactly – but we can safely say that cricket fans sure know how to celebrate.

Updated: June 11, 2024, 6:04 PM

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