India-Pakistan Cricket World Cup Match Brings 34,000 Fans to Long Island

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Normally at this time of year, the grassy southeastern corner of Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, N.Y., 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.

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 Chandu Talla, 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 Jasprit Bumrah, 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. (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 I.C.C. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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, N.Y., 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.

“But once you are inside, the field and the view is excellent,” he said. “World class.”

Security was tight for the match, especially after a website purportedly affiliated with the terrorist organization ISIS called for attacks on the event. Mounted police, SWAT units, sniffer dogs, helicopters and large numbers of police officers swarmed the area, and long lines formed at entrances as people went through security scanners. Bruce Blakeman, the Nassau County executive, said that the I.C.C. had defrayed some of the cost of the security, which he said included local, state and federal agencies, including the F.B.I.

“I want to commend the fans,” Mr. Blakeman said, adding, “Everybody has been so polite and respectful, and they followed instructions so they could be safe and healthy.”

There was at least one exception. An airplane trailing a sign that said “Release Imran Khan” breached restricted airspace over the stadium before the match. (Mr. Khan, a former Pakistani cricket star and former prime minister of Pakistan, is serving a prison sentence there.) Mr. Blakeman said the plane was eventually intercepted.

The mood at the park was generally upbeat, even for Pakistan fans on the losing end.

“India-Pakistan is a very big deal,” said Temu Martin, an airfreight transport official from New Jersey and a Pakistan supporter. “But it’s not war. It’s a game.”

He said that after Pakistan lost to the United States last week in a major upset in Dallas, ticket prices for Sunday’s match in East Meadow plummeted from over $2,000 to $600. He said he was planning to travel to Barbados for Pakistan’s next match and then to attend a knockout-stage match in Antigua.

There are three more matches scheduled in New York, with the final one on Wednesday between India and the United States. The stadium will then be dismantled and the pieces sent out to other sporting events around the country. Mr. Blakeman predicted that Nassau County would make $150 million on the eight New York games of the tournament — 10 times what the county spent on infrastructure, planning and security, he said. Cricket officials had told him that there could be as many as 600 million viewers worldwide for Sunday’s match, he added.

He said that he had heard from investors who want to bring the sport, perhaps with New York’s franchise in Major League Cricket, to Nassau County.

“The way things have gone here these last couple of weeks, I think cricket has found a home,” Mr. Blakeman said.

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