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

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.”

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.

“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.

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.

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.”

‘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!”

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