Virat Kohli will lead India against Pakistan at the T20 World Cup in New York

PETER LALOR
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Virat Kohli and Mohammad Rizwan and Indian fans at the Long Island cricket stadium.
Virat Kohli and Mohammad Rizwan and Indian fans at the Long Island cricket stadium. Credit: Getty Images

Start spreading the news. Cricket has come to the Big Apple.

The Indian cricket team slipped quietly into town and set themselves up in a hotel. Steve Smith, a man burdened with the reputation as the best since Bradman is there too, holed up in the Manhattan apartment he and his wife call home.

Usman Khawaja is in town promoting the broadcast for Amazon Prime back into Australia. Ravi Shastri has set himself up in a boutique Italian hotel downtown.

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A large crowd turned out to see Virat Kohli train on Long Island on Saturday, immigrants welcoming their hero to their adopted home, but that reception be nothing like when their team takes the field against India’s great frenemies, Pakistan, near New York on Sunday.

A game too hot to be hosted in either side’s home has found the most neutral of territories.

The Port Authority has given the ICC permission to set up a live site at the World Trades Center should Manhattanites want to slip from the madding crown and catch themselves a glimpse of the game they know so little about.

Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, will host a viewing party for the India-Pakistan match for those who can’t get along - resale sites were asking up to $15,000 for good seats, but the patient were a chance to land them for less through official channels.

Over the last 100 days a 34,000 seat cricket stadium has risen among the fields and trees of the 930-acre Eisenhower Park which is about 40km east of Manhattan. It’s big. It’s temporary stands are from the Vegas F1 Grand Prix and the cabanas and party areas are from various golf and tennis tournaments.

Adelaide curator Damien Hough grew a clutch of drop in pitches in Miami, because you weren’t going to grow grass in a New York winter. They were driven up the highway and dropped into the parkland site.

When the tournament is over it will all be disassembled and redistributed, but the game is hoping for a legacy that defies the here-tonight-gone-tomorrow pop up stadium. The ICC is playing its cards close to its chest but it is understood they’re paying $1 million a day rent for the stadium which cost $45m to construct.

And what about the native New Yorkers? The vast majority of the eight million plus coffee-clutching, fast talking characters have had other things on their minds. The Trump trial played out downtown. Harvey Weinstein’s appeal had started across the street. And that late spring weather had hit that Goldilocks spot, not too hot, not too cold.

The leading American sports channel put out a social media post explaining to the uninitiated that Kohli is “the greatest athlete in the world … that Americans have never heard from”.

His 265 million Instagram fans, they were told, is more than “Lebron, Mahomes and Simone Biles combined”.

ESPN told would-be convert cricket “is not that different to baseball” before descending into a long explanation of the colonial game’s rights and rituals.

The colonial game, having failed to take root here in the 1800s, is back to claim itself a slice of the pie.

India take on Pakistan in a game thatis expected to be one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Half a billion will tune in. It is the sort of show that’s hard to ignore.

Australians will remember 2022 when the two sides met at the MCG infront of an enthralled crowd of 90,293. One look in the stands and it was obvious this audience of “new Australians” were as passionate as their numbers were significant.

It is time to see if cricket can find itself a place between the basketball courts, the baseball diamonds, gridiron’s college fields and hockey’s ice rinks.

America - and New York in particular - is a melting pot of cultures and for the millions of South East Asians, Caribbean, English and Australian cricket fans who live here far from the teams they love and the contests they crave.

The game was once here. The first international cricket match, between Canada and the USA, was hosted in these parts in the 1844 but other games stole its thunder. With an eye to history, the ICC kicked off the tournament with a clash between the two countries.

The expats have well established boutique competitions in various cities. Dallas is said to host over 200 games a week, the New York cricketers protested when the ICC initially proposed to build its stadium on their grounds at Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

Virat Kohli is a cricketing god in India.
Virat Kohli is a cricketing god in India. Credit: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Anurag Dahiya, the ICC chief commercial officer, says that the USA is already the third or fourth largest cricket market in the world. Across the States there are 35 million Indians alone. More than the entire population of Australia or Delhi.

“The fact was that if we are going to address the US market we have to do it in a meaningful manner,” Dahiya said at an event hosted by Prime Video. “We can’t just have a token presence and get out. It had to be big. It had to be ambitious. It had to be try and make an impact.

“If we were to build a 34,000 seat stadium then what better game to have there than India and Pakistan. It was the natural choice to have that game in that stadium, there is a big Indian and Pakistani diaspora of course, but it is bigger than that. I was there in Australia when they played and Australians were saying they had never seen anything like it. It was amazing.”

The ICC aims to introduce cricket to American schools and is sending out game its to one million children.

Of course, where there are Indians, or Pakistanis, or Bangladeshis, or Caribbean immigrants there will always be cricket. For years they’ve played cricket on the fringes, in parks and scrappy fields in Queens, Dallas, Miami and wherever enough like minded tragics assemble.

The game is trying to gain a more secure footing. Indian franchise owners have invested in the Major League Cricket T20 competition and Australian stars like Travis Head, Jake Fraser-McGurk and Steve Smith have signed up. In 2028 the LA Olympics will feature cricket.

Overnight Pat Cummins signed a four-year to play for the San Francisco Unicorns for the second season of MLC. Many of those games will be played in the converted Dallas ball park, Grand Prairie Stadium, which will also become USA’s base and main training facility.

Last Friday all the news on Manhattan was of Trump’s guilty verdict. It was plastered across the pages and websites but the New York Times found space for an article the World Cup and the game that is trying to deepen its roots.

The last time the revered newspaper gave any space to the game it ran a piece explaining to Americans the 2018 sandpaper scandal in its news pages - complete with a picture of a devastated Smith.

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