Cricket-North American fans thrill for dream India-Pakistan showdown in New York

By Thomson Reuters Jun 9, 2024 | 10:12 AM

By Amy Tennery

EAST MEADOW, New York (Reuters) – A sold-out crowd descended on Eisenhower Park on Sunday for a clash of cricketing arch-rivals India and Pakistan, set to face off in a T20 World Cup match that fans called a dream come true.

The cricketing titans share one of the most intense rivalries in all of sport, and Sunday’s affair in Nassau County had a historic feel as the two sides rarely face off.

For Rubal Sikka, who moved to the United States from India 25 years ago and played cricket with friends at Eisenhower Park in high school, watching the match is beyond his wildest imagination.

“Saturday, Sunday morning without fail everybody was there, seven in the morning, you know, setting up the field, getting ready for cricket,” the restaurateur and banquet hall-owner on Long Island said.

“Never ever did we imagine that, you know, our dream players, people, sportsmen that we look up to are going to end up playing at the same exact spot that we were playing on.”

India last hosted Pakistan in a bilateral series in 2013, and the teams now meet only in international tournaments. Their 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup clash drew 229 million television viewers in India alone.

Fans paid top-dollar on the secondary market for a seat inside the 34,000-capacity temporary stadium, and local officials held an outdoor watch party at nearby Cedar Creek Park to accommodate those who could not snag a seat.

“While we’re having a watch party here, there’s going to be a watch party around the world,” said Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman.

Rain delayed the start of the match but could not dampen the enthusiasm of fans, who overflowed merchandise kiosks and lined up at food stalls offering chicken tikka masala alongside classic American ballpark hot dogs.

Attendees wended their way through layers of tight security largely without issue as helicopters circled overhead and a row of mounted police stood between cheering fans and the arriving athletes.

Cricket officials hope the tournament co-hosted by the United States and the West Indies will help the sport capture a bigger piece of the lucrative North American market, where football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey have a choke-hold.

Sunday’s blockbuster showdown assured all eyes would be on New York, as West Indies legend Chris Gayle stood on the grounds seeking autographs from players from both countries.

“The atmosphere at an India-Pakistan game is something very, very different,” International Cricket Council (ICC) CEO Geoff Allardice told Reuters. “When you get fans of those two countries together, it’s generally a celebration.”

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in East Meadow, New York; additional reporting by Rohith Nair; Editing by Hugh Lawson)