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India vs Pakistan brings biggest cricket party to US

American dream gather pace

June 11, 2024 00:00:00

India and Pakistan fans stand as national anthems of two countries are played before the start of the match at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Westbury, New York on Sunday — AFP

Normally at this time of year, the grassy southeastern corner of Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, New York, is a place for softball games, family picnics and a few cricket players enjoying a warm weekend afternoon. On Sunday, that space was transformed into a stage for one of the most-watched global sporting events of the year, according to the American daily newspaper New York Times.

More than 34,000 fans and cricket dignitaries squeezed into a temporary stadium built in the last three months in the Long Island park to watch the most anticipated match of the T20 Cricket World Cup: India versus Pakistan.

For about three hours, fans in blue and orange India shirts mingled with their (vastly outnumbered) rivals in the dark green of Pakistan, producing a festive and vibrant atmosphere.

They roared at every big play, shouting and waving signs and flags. They ate South Asian food sold at the concession stands, jumped, chanted, high-fived with fellow supporters and - after a bit of rain - soaked up the sunshine on a historic day at the usually quiet park.

"It was electric," said ChanduTalla, an India fan and entrepreneur from Tampa, Fla., who came to the match with his son Aryan, a high school junior. "We paid $2,500 per ticket and no regrets," he added. "It was a dream come true to see India here."

After a slow start, India came back strong to win, 119-113, and when Pakistan's Naseem Shah hit the last ball from India bowler Arshdeep Singh, the India fans erupted in cheers.

"It was pretty good," said India bowler JaspritBumrah, who was named the player of the match. "Always, when India and Pakistan play, a lot of emotion does come in. It did feel like we had a lot of support."

People in the New York area may have been mostly oblivious to it, but any match between India and Pakistan, two of the greatest cricketing nations, is a monumental event, at least in South Asia and other cricket-loving parts of the world. The previous time the teams played, last fall, viewership reached 398 million in India alone, according to the International Cricket Council (ICC). (This year's Super Bowl had 123 million viewers.)

Sunday's attendance (34,028) constituted the largest at an international cricket match in the United States, according to the ICC. Attendees included such cricketing legends as Yuvraj Singh of India, Pakistan's Shahid Afridi and Australia's Ricky Ponting.

For Omar Minaya, the Yankees' special adviser and the former general manager of the Mets, the cricket match was his first.

"It's amazing," he said. "The atmosphere is great. It's like the World Baseball Classic, or the Dominican Baseball League."

The T20 World Cup, held every two years, is a 20-nation tournament featuring a shorter form of cricket. This year, for the first time, the event is being held in the United States and several Caribbean nations where cricket is revered. The US matches are also being held in Dallas and Lauderhill, Fla., but New York was designated for the marquee matchup.

Cricket is part of the cultural fabric in both India and Pakistan, but political tensions over the decades have forced the countries to play each other in other places.

"Oh, it's contentious, a real battle of sentiments," said Narinder Kapoor, 84, a retired US. Treasury Department agent, originally from New Delhi. "When these countries play, it's a real hot potato."

A former amateur cricket player who emigrated to Syosset, New York, in 1972, Mr. Kapoor had not seen a cricket match live since 1974, although he watches the sport constantly on TV. He went to the game between Ireland and Canada on Friday and had hoped to attend Sunday's big encounter, but his knees were ailing him, so he stayed home, according to his son, Sandeep Kapoor.

The elder Mr. Kapoor said that he enjoyed the sparsely attended match on Friday, but added that the temporary stadium did not have enough accommodations for people with disabilities and that it was difficult for older people to ascend the steps.

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