Florida provided the stage, the Indian-American community brought the audience, and the two most star-powered teams in international T20 cricket put on one of the most remarkable shows the sport has ever seen.
While India fell one agonising run short in a match that required comprehensive rewriting of the T20 record books, the crowd that filled Central Broward Stadium in Lauderhill, Florida wasn't complaining. They went away trying to process the scoring smorgasbord they'd just seen and praising the people who'd allowed them to see it in the United States.
"The result doesn't matter, we enjoyed the match anyway," said Chandra Sabbararpu, who flew in from Baltimore with his seven-year-old son Vikranth. "We should have more matches in the US to get it more popular here."
They likely will have more matches, but they probably won't look quite like this one did. The highest-scoring match in T20 history, with an aggregate of 489 runs, offered a sort of Rorschach Test for what fans think of modern cricket: Either a glut of boundaries, each more meaningless than the last, or a sign of the creativity and aggression that continues to move the modern game forward.
Inside the ground, however, it provided a spectacle for fans who came ready to party.
In fact, the party had begun several hours earlier. To accommodate a prime-time television audience in India, the match started at 10 am local time. The gates to the stadium opened a little after 8 am, by which time cars were already backing up on Sunrise Boulevard and a large, loud contingent had gathered at the main gate. By 9 am, stands were filling up and fans were popping open the first beers of the day.
Many had driven hours or flown in from other parts of the country to be in South Florida. Not Suresh Nair and Sudipto Jana. They live in Fort Lauderdale, the midsized coastal city north of Miami, of which Lauderhill is a suburb. They have watched as the stadium has barely been used for any top-flight cricket in the nearly a decade since it opened, a situation blamed largely on the sport's governing body, the United States of America Cricket Association, which has now been suspended by the ICC.
Jana was draped in an Indian flag, and both were ready to finally watch India play in the US's only ICC-approved international-level stadium. They thought it would be good for cricket, and good for the area. "The hotels are full, and the crowd is going berserk," Nair said.
There were a few lost-in-translation moments for cricket in America, but not many. When West Indies opener Johnson Charles — or "J Charels" as he was listed on the stadium scoreboard — deposited a six deep into the "Party Stand" (really more of a marquee on a small hill), the match momentarily halted as the ball failed to re-emerge. Even the announcer got involved, extolling whoever had it to "SEND THE BALL BACK!"
Eventually a local stadium security guard emerged, casually walking around the corner with a ball he may have assumed he could keep, as you would at a baseball game.
But mostly, the match ran smoothly, the hoped-for situation for local leaders desperate to see more big crowds and international cricket in the stadium. Local leaders have spoken of cricket's tourism potential, and an advertisement for Lauderhill occasionally flashed up on the boundary display screens. Around the ground, it wasn't hard to find people who'd travelled.
Raj Reddy and Rithvik Kasireddy flew in from Raleigh, North Carolina, armed with matching Sachin shirts and umbrella hats. They had never seen India play in person before and both agreed the first time will be pretty hard to beat. "This is the best match to come watch in person," Kasireddy said. "And we should have won," Reddy added.
Vasu, Rahul and Ruchika Verma and KV Bhagat drove nine hours from Augusta, Georgia. They admitted they weren't all huge cricket fans, but Vasu Verma was the instigator. "I watch every single game," he said.
Their small Georgia city, best known as the home of golf's prestigious Masters' Tournament, sent a substantial delegation to the cricket, they insisted. "I know a bunch of people from Georgia, from Augusta, who came down," Rahul Verma said.
If there were any new or casual cricket fans in attendance, they were in the vast minority. The match did receive some local attention. The local newspaper, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, doesn't typically cover much cricket, but on Saturday, devoted a story and an editorial to the match. The story explained that the match would be televised in 60 countries, quoted Greg Chappell, and predicted that "If the CPL matches are any indication, the pitch will be batsmen-friendly".
But if the match poked a bit into the wider local consciousness, it didn't seem to make it all the way. After the match, as cars departing the stadium parking lot brought Sunrise Boulevard to another standstill, a woman caught in the jam rolled down her window as a passing cricket fan walked by.
"Excuse me," she said. "Was there a soccer game there today?"
Not exactly, ma'am. Not exactly.
In the end, it was not really a day for new fans. But it was a day for making memories. For Sabbararpu and Vikranth, the match meant more than just the final score. Vikranth, a cricket-mad boy growing up in a baseball-mad town, got to see his heroes. It's the sort of day that can get a father and son planning. "He's seven years old, but he knows every player in the world," his father said. 'I want to make sure he represents the US team when he grows up."
Vikranth nodded sagely. "I want to be a champion," he said.
First Published On : Aug 28, 2016 09:35 IST