FROM STEVE BRENNER AT CITI FIELD
It was sport – but not as America knows it.
There was loud, vibrant noise emanating from the stands of Citi Field . The action was ,at times, fast paced and enjoyably engaging.
Big hits boomed off the bat, acrobatic catches were held.
This , however, wasn’t the World Series.
It was cricket. Legends style.
Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne, two of the all-time greats, were attempting to stride where no superstar cricketer had dared venture before.
The masters of the game , the International Cricket Council (ICC) , undoubtedly see the potential of creating cash rich revenue streams in the US while, so they claim, attempting to seriously establish the sport on these shores.
Globalizing the game is also on the agenda.
Considering the vast majority of the 30,000 plus who turned up ensured Queens was transformed into a cross between Mumbai and Karachi, the notion of getting your average New York sports fan excited about Ricky Ponting’s cover drive is fanciful to say the least.
Special cricket clinics for children have been held in the New York area although American involvement has , apparently, been minimal. Youngsters of Indian or Pakistani descent have certainly loved every minute.
Furthermore, a quick Guardian investigation between innings proved local cricket virgins were hard to find at Citi Field on Saturday.
“I saw one American here, “ said an English supporter. “But she was with her Australian boyfriend.”
The feverish, Beatle-mania type shrilling every time Tendulkar’s face appeared on the huge TV screens clearly proved who the real main attraction was. The vast swathes of Indians and Pakistani’s here were having a blast. Sachin’s Blasters were their team.
And why not? Living on these shores means seeing the likes of the Little Master and his glittering array of retired friends don their multi coloured sporting pyjamas was as unlikely as the New York Mets staging an exhibition game at Lord’s next summer.
Obviously being called Shane or Sachin gives you the chance to get some of the greatest names in cricket history to dust off their boots and enjoy a couple of weeks traipsing around the US.
There are two more Twenty20 matches to follow in Houston and Los Angeles and with a three year deal hoping t be struck, this won’t be the last time this grand old game graces baseball stadia in the land of the free.
Warne and Tendulkar naturally talked an excellent game in the exhaustive media build-up.
The same lines were trotted out. How this could be a great start for cricket in the US. How the next time they come back it would be wonderful to see an American child holding a cricket bat rather than one which thumps baseballs.
Warne , keeping close to the script, citied David Beckham’s arrival in MLS as an example to prove building a new sport can indeed be done.
The Australian , however, was perhaps slightly drunk on optimism. Soccer , whether it professional or amateur, has been played and watched in the US for decades.
Cricket, however, is effectively starting from scratch with the US masses. There is certainly something which attempts to resemble a cricketing culture in New York and beyond.
Naturally, ex-pats , whether they be from the sub-continent, England, Australia, South Africa or the Caribbean are in the majority. Earlier this summer the United States attempted – and subsequently failed – to qualify for the next Twenty20 World Cup next March.
Cricket is trying to grow here though progress has stalled following the suspension of the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) from the ICC .
An investigation uncovered a number of ‘ serious concerns’ relating to how their funding was being spent and in the manner the association was being governed. Non-existent Leagues had been created allowing those who really should know better to skim precious dollars from the pot.
That sorry scenario, and some of the ridiculously high ticket prices (the top price of $175 was far too expensive and ensured the casual walk up fan stayed away ) has left a bad taste with some in the cricket community.
Yet the majority with no gripes to bear were treated to an enthralling trip down memory lane. Tendulkar stroked a classy 26, while Virender Sehwag reminded everyone of his power and crispness of hitting by whacking a quickfire 55.
Warne produced too, three wickets from four overs helped his side , the Warriors, rack up 140 for eight off their 20 overs which included a stunning world first when South African Shaun Pollock was caught by fellow Protea Jaques Kallis off the bowling of their old international team-mate Allan Donald.
The chase was keenly contested on a drop in pitch which was cultivated in Indianapolis.
Ponting superbly held the innings together with Warne’s side needing 37 from the last six overs, a target which was ultimately reached with 16 balls to spare thanks to an audacious reverse sweep for six from Jonty Rhodes.
The two figureheads were left delighted with their day’s work.
“People from different nations came to join the sport, it got nations together to celebrate and to globalize cricket. I went to watch the Mets in the World Series and the atmosphere felt like that, ” said Tendulkar.
“It was a proud moment to see a baseball stadium packed for cricket, ” added Warne.
“Anyone who didn’t know the game would have seen this and enjoyed the experience.
“It’s baseball meets rock n roll.”
Those who adore America’s national pastime would beg to differ.
Yet this was fun. And that’s what sport – of any kind – should always be about.