Saturday, May 25, 2024

Cricket thrives on Long Island, host of 1st T20 World Cup

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A towering stadium boasting 34,000 seats and a precisely trimmed field of soft Kentucky bluegrass is rising on Long Island that will host one of the world’s top cricket tournaments next month.

But on a recent Saturday morning, on the other side of 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.

What to know about cricket 

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.

About the T20 World Cup

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.

PHILIP MARCELO, with the Associated Press, helped contribute to this report.

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