USA vs India: How the home team could help convert Americans to cricket

Do New Yorkers know there’s a T20 Cricket World Cup in their backyard and their team is actually winning matches? Al Jazeera finds out.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 09: A general view of the stadium during play in the ICC Men's T20 Cricket World Cup West Indies & USA 2024 match between India and Pakistan at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium on June 09, 2024 in New York, New York. Robert Cianflone/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by ROBERT CIANFLONE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
Supporters of the Indian cricket team are expected to throng the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in their tens of thousands when the powerhouse takes on the home team, USA, in their Group A match of the T20 World Cup 2024 [Robert Cianflone/Getty Images via AFP]

Long Island, New York – Alan*, one of the eight million residents of Long Island, is a die-hard New York Yankees fan and an avid consumer of sport. What makes him stand out, though, is his comparatively decent knowledge of a certain mega sports event being hosted in his neck of the woods.

A day after the New York island hosted possibly the biggest ever sports event in its history – the India vs Pakistan cricket match at the T20 World Cup 2024 – Alan answered a few questions as part of Al Jazeera’s informal survey about the tournament in the affluent village of Great Neck, about 8km (15 miles) north of the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium, the New York home of the T20 World Cup.

“I heard they put a temporary stadium in Eisenhower Park, right? And didn’t I hear there was a huge upset recently, like the USA beat somebody? Pakistan? Which is, like, one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Yeah, because it’s like a big deal, right? Because they are obviously a big, strong team. And I’m guessing USA is not.”

Most people Al Jazeera spoke to had never heard of cricket.

Mario*, a fan of the New York Mets baseball team who works at a local supermarket, gave a typical answer: “I don’t know about cricket. I don’t know what it is. I like baseball, but not cricket. Never even heard of the sport.”

new york cricket
A sign advertising the ICC T20 World Cup 2024 matches is seen outside the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium while it was being constructed in East Meadow, New York, on May 8, 2024 [Seth Wenig/AP]

Quiet bemusement with a touch of curiosity

In the opening two weeks of the tournament, the pop-up Nassau County stadium has heaved with fans, particularly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean. Many of these cricket-mad folks have paid exorbitant prices for a single ticket – up to $10,000 for the India vs Pakistan match.

And while the International Cricket Council (ICC) lit up the Empire State Building in an attempt to interest Americans, the local response appears to peak at quiet bemusement with a touch of curiosity.

Eisenhower Park is a giant span of green on the western side of Long Island. To say it’s enormous is an understatement. Consisting of 3.8sq km (1.5sq miles) of parkland and recreational space, it’s bigger than the more famous Central Park in nearby Manhattan.

It’s a sporting destination. Among its lush fields and towering trees, it houses three 18-hole golf courses, 14 tennis courts, two indoor NHL-sized skating rinks, another outdoor rink, an aquatic centre, a fitness centre, two pickleball (padel) courts, a basketball court, an illuminated golf driving range, a bocce court and tables with inlaid checker and chess boards. And its latest addition is one temporary cricket stadium.

The construction of the 35,000-seat edifice and the increased traffic has certainly not gone unnoticed.

“My parents live in Westbury, and we drove through Eisenhower Park, saw it being built,” said Ross*, who has lived on Long Island all his life.

“I didn’t know anything about it before I saw that stadium and then read about India vs Pakistan and all the craziness. I picked up my parents at the airport yesterday and drove them home and saw tonnes of traffic on Zeckendorf Boulevard, and we were talking about how it was the match. Is it still going on right now? Who won?”

Zeckendorf Boulevard is less than 5km (3 miles) away from the stadium. Ross must have encountered a sea of green and blue, responsible for the “tonnes of traffic”, as he drove past.

Daniel*, a taxi driver, heard about the tournament from his brother, who was in Long Island during the match.

“The area was pretty crowded and he said, ‘This is crazy.’ He saw [so] many people and was amazed. So I looked into it, and found out that this was one of the largest events ever to happen here on Long Island.”

Daniel is an ubder driver in New York [Melinda Farrell/Al Jazeera]
Daniel is an Uber driver in New York [Melinda Farrell/Al Jazeera]

‘A lot more fun than a baseball game’

The construction is impressive, as is the atmosphere created by fans. The raucous cheering and singing and the swathes of coloured replica team shirts provide a joyous backdrop to the action that is easily comparable to any major cricket venue in the world.

“It was loud, charismatic, funny,” Adil*, a Pakistan fan living in the Long Island borough of Queens, told Al Jazeera after Pakistan’s win over Canada.

“I’m a big baseball fan, but it was a lot more fun than a baseball game.”

Usman*, who is originally from Pakistan and travelled from Boston to watch the match, agreed.

“It was good, pretty loud. The music was spot on. The fans were chanting throughout the game and especially when Babar [Azam] came on to bat.”

India and Pakistan cricket fans bring the party to the USA
Cricket fans fill up the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Westbury, New York, as India plays Pakistan in the ICC T20 World Cup 2024 on June 9, 2024 [Adam Hunger/AP]

But spreading that excitement beyond the confines of the stadium bubble remains a challenge. That the biggest fixture of the World Cup barely caused a ripple beyond the leafy borders of Eisenhower Park demonstrates the hurdles cricket must overcome to crack the American market.

The tournament is being broadcast in the United States on Willow TV, a subscription channel devoted to cricket aimed largely at the expatriate Indian and Pakistani community, making it almost impossible for casual viewers to stumble across live matches.

Michaela, originally from Trinidad, works in a chic bar in Great Neck Village. She is serving a drink to Bruno, a pharmacist who grew up in Queens near Citi Field, the Mets’ home ground.

Michaela explains how popular cricket is in her home country and how Trinidad produced one of the game’s greatest batters in Brian Lara.

Bruno is intrigued.

“I used to live in Little Village and [some] guys played cricket in Flushing Meadow Park,” Bruno said.

“I used to watch them, but I have no clue how the game is played. I was kind of interested [in cricket], and I wanted to learn how to play it, but then I just thought, ‘There is a lot going on there [in the game].’”

This is cricket’s great challenge: to persuade Americans that the sport is not incomprehensible to novices.

“I’ve always liked cricket to watch a little,” Alan said. “I’ve watched it on TV. Unfortunately, I don’t understand it, so it’s a little hard to follow it. But I guess it has piqued our interest a little, maybe.”

Bruno is a pharmacist in New York [Melinda Farrell/Al Jazeera]
Bruno, a pharmacist in New York, thinks cricket has ‘a lot going on’, making it difficult for him to follow the game [Melinda Farrell/Al Jazeera]

‘Keep it simple’

The ICC’s broadcast has featured a popular American sports YouTuber and podcaster, Jimmy O’Brien, in the commentary box to act as a bridge for local fans.

“Cricket terms become a foreign language but with similar bases so the same thing can mean something else, and it can be very confusing [for the American fans],” O’Brien said.

“When someone doesn’t know baseball but tries to explain cricket in baseball words, it’s like a broken translator. Having someone that knows both sports, explaining in baseball terms will help out.

“And then keep it really simple. Just say, ‘Most runs wins.’ Let’s start there. And then say, ‘Oh, and they hit until they get out’ and just slowly build the blocks. Sometimes, cricket fans like to start with LBW just for the fun of it. And that’s crazy.”

Almost everyone surveyed in Great Neck Village agreed that American sports fans love getting behind a winning home team. The USA’s successful start to the tournament gives them a chance to progress to the Super Eights stage, even if they lose to India.

That match on Wednesday will be the final one played at the Nassau County stadium before it is dismantled, swallowed up by the surrounding greenery and normalcy returns to Eisenhower Park.

If the USA succeed, it may provide the cut-through needed to prevent cricket fading from the local consciousness.

Neither Bruno nor Alan knew there was a USA team before the win over Pakistan. When told India is their next opponent, Alan’s eyes lit up.

“Really? Is there a chance for them to win? Wow, that’s amazing. Go USA!”

Bruno’s interest is now more than piqued.

“They’re looking to do it again? Now I’m following. Now I’m following.”

*Surnames withheld upon request.

Source: Al Jazeera