Pakistan-India showdown is sold out for ICC T20 WC, tickets topping $1,000 each online

Pakistan-India showdown is sold out for ICC T20 WC, tickets topping $1,000 each online


Despite having around 10,000 players, the sport has no dedicated stadium in New York

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EAST MEADOW (United States) (AFP) – With Pakistan-India showdown is already sold out and tickets now topping $1,000 each online, the ICC, for its part, is investing big in the sport's future in the US, particularly the New York region, home to several hundred thousand people with links to cricket-playing countries, notably India and Pakistan.

In the shadow of New York skyscrapers a field of dreams emerges, but it is not a baseball diamond. It's for another bat-and-ball sport – cricket – that supporters are betting will finally bowl Americans over.

The centuries-old English game has a feverish following throughout much of the world, but the United States, long partial to American football, basketball and national pastime baseball, has been a stubborn holdout.

That may change early next month when the United States has its moment in the cricket sun, co-hosting the Twenty20 World Cup – the championship series for a shortened format of cricket.

The temporary new stadium, financed entirely by the International Cricket Council, the sport's global governing body, will host eight tournament matches including the June 9 headliner, a potentially epic clash between powerhouses India and Pakistan, two of the sport's biggest rivals.

Some 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of New York, a forest of metal beams supporting 34,000 bleacher seats rises from Long Island's Eisenhower Park, a site the ICC chose after its earlier plan in the Bronx fell through.

It is not quite the gracious as Lord's cricket ground in London, but Nassau County International Cricket Stadium will be in the spotlight shortly – thanks to a swift green light from local authorities.

"The world is coming right here to Nassau County. You're going to have kings and princes and big dignitaries," beamed the county's deputy commissioner of parks, Michael D'Ambrosio.

"A lot of people are very envious and jealous that we got this," he told AFP, noting the tournament's massive global viewership.

Pro league

But once the stadium is dismantled in July, local cricket will return to its struggling state. Despite having around 10,000 players, the sport has no dedicated stadium in New York.

"Cricket is growing, but the infrastructure -- that's where the fight is," lamented Ajith Shetty, president of the Commonwealth Cricket League (CCL), the region's premier cricket grouping.

New York does field a team in Major League Cricket, the professional league launched last year, and plays on dedicated pitches -- in Texas and North Carolina, where all MLC matches occur to control costs.

"We are exploring opportunities to create a permanent venue close to our loyal fan base," a spokesperson for defending MLC champions MI New York told AFP.

Meanwhile CCL players lug a 500-pound (225-kilogram) mat from park to park, which acts as the "pitch," the rectangular area at the center of a cricket field.

"No other sport has to put in this much work, only cricket in New York. They make us suffer," said Shetty, an Indian-born entrepreneur.

"New York used to be a Mecca of cricket," he added. But while conditions have stagnated in the Big Apple, other states have improved, especially Texas.

Houston is where team USA stunned Bangladesh on Thursday to sweep their three-match T20 international series ahead of the World Cup.

'Long time coming'

Backed by local entrepreneurs, some CCL clubs pay players thousands of dollars per year, although not enough to quit their day jobs. Waqas Ashiq, who plays for Long Island United CC and recalls the struggles back when the team started in 2008, sees the glass half full.

"It's been a long time coming," he said before strolling on to the field to bat. "I'm hopeful that with this World Cup coming, people get their interest piqued a little bit."

According to Shetty, the entrepreneur, the ICC is keen to invest in US youth development, particularly in light of cricket returning to the Olympics, at the 2028 Games in Los Angeles. Schools are also showing interest.

The challenge now, agreed Ashiq, in addition to the quest for a permanent stadium, is involving the next generation -- children of the cricket-loving immigrants who have made New York their home.

"That's the only way to grow the sport and make sure it's secure for the next 10, 20, 30 years."