Sports

A cricket World Cup is coming to NYC's suburbs, where the sport thrives among immigrant communities

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — (AP) — A towering stadium boasting 34,000 seats and a precisely trimmed field of soft Kentucky bluegrass is rising in a suburban New York park that will host one of the world's top cricket tournaments next month.

But on a recent Saturday morning, on the other side of Long Island’s Eisenhower Park, budding young cricketers were already busy batting, bowling and fielding on a makeshift pitch.

The T20 World Cup will be the first major international cricket competition in the U.S., but the centuries-old English game has been flourishing in the far-flung corners of metro New York for years, fueled by steady waves of South Asian and Caribbean immigration. Each spring, parks from the Bronx and Queens to Long Island and New Jersey come alive with recreational leagues hosting weekend competitions.

American cricket organizers hope the June competition will take the sport's popularity to the next level, providing the kind of lasting boost across generations and cultures that soccer enjoyed when the U.S. hosted its first FIFA World Cup in 1994. On Wednesday, retired Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, an honorary ambassador of the T20 World Cup, visited the nearly complete Eisenhower stadium, along with members of the U.S. cricket squad and former New York football and basketball greats.

Parmanand Sarju, founder of the Long Island Youth Cricket Academy that hosted Saturday’s practice, said he's “beyond joyful” to see the new stadium rising atop the ball field where his youth academy began, a sign of how far things have come.

“When we started more than a decade ago, there was no understanding of cricket, at least at the youth level,” said the Merrick resident, who started the academy to teach his two American-born children the sport he grew up playing in Guyana in South America. “Now they’re building a stadium here.”

The sport originally took root in the outer boroughs of New York City but has gradually spread as immigrant families, like generations before, moved to the suburbs, transforming communities, said Ahmad Chohan, a Pakistan native who is the president of the New York Police Department’s cricket club, which also plays in Eisenhower as part of a statewide league with roughly 70 teams.

The World Cup, he said, is a “historic moment."

Cricket is the second most-viewed sport in the world after soccer — India star Virat Kohli has 268 million Instagram followers — but it is only played by more than 200,000 Americans nationwide across more than 400 local leagues, according to USA Cricket, which oversees the men’s national cricket team.

Major League Cricket launched last year in the U.S. with six professional T20 teams, including a New York franchise that, for now, plays some games at a Dallas-area stadium also hosting World Cup matches.

Venu Pisike, the chairman of USA Cricket, believes the T20 World Cup — the first time the U.S. has competed in the tournament — will mark a turning point.

The sport is among those slated for the 2028 summer Olympics in Los Angeles — its first appearance at the games in more than a century, he noted. The International Cricket Council, the sport’s governing body, has also committed to growing the U.S. market.

“Cricket is predominantly viewed as an expat sport, but things will look very different in the next 10, 20 years,” said Pisike. “Americans will definitely change their mindset and approach in terms of developing cricket.”

Both the Los Angeles games and the upcoming World Cup, which the U.S. is co-hosting with the West Indies, will feature a modern variant of the game known as “Twenty20” that lasts around three hours and is highlighted by aggressive batters swinging away for homerun-like “sixes.” It’s considered more approachable to casual fans than traditional formats, which can last one to five days when batters typically take a more cautious approach. Twenty20 is the format used in the hugely popular Indian Premier League.

Eisenhower Park will host half the games played in the U.S., including a headlining clash of cricket titans Pakistan and India on June 9.

Other matches in the 55-game, 20-nation tournament that kicks off June 1 will be played on existing cricket fields in Texas and Florida. Later rounds take place in Antigua, Trinidad and other Caribbean nations, with the final in Barbados on June 29.

Cricket has a long history in the U.S. and New York, in particular.

The sport was played by American troops during the Revolutionary War, and the first international match was held in Manhattan between the city’s St. George’s Cricket Club and Canada in 1844, according to Stephen Holroyd, a Philadelphia-area cricket historian.

As late as 1855, New York newspapers were still devoting more coverage to cricket than baseball, but the sport remained stubbornly insular, with British-only cricket clubs hindering its growth just as baseball was taking off, he said.

By the end of World War I, cricket had largely disappeared — until immigrants from India and other former British colonies helped revive it roughly half a century later.

Anubhav Chopra, a co-founder of the Long Island Premier League, a nearly 15-year-old men's league that plays in another local park, is among the more than 700,000 Indian Americans in the New York City area — by far the largest community of its kind in the country.

The Babylon resident has never been to a professional cricket match but has tried to share his love for the game he played growing up in New Delhi with his three American children, including his 9-year-old son who takes cricket lessons.

Chopra bought tickets to all nine games taking place at Eisenhower and is taking his wife, kids and grandparents to the June 3 match between Sri Lanka and South Africa.

“For me, cricket is life,” he said. “This as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The dense latticework of metal rods and wood sheets that make up Eisenhower’s modular stadium will come down soon after the cup games end, but the cricket field will remain, minus the rectangular surface in the middle known as the pitch.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said what’s left lays a “world-class” foundation for local cricket teams — and perhaps a future home for a professional team.

___

Follow Philip Marcelo at twitter.com/philmarcelo.

Listen

news

amazon alexa

Enable our Skill today to listen live at home on your Alexa Devices!