Cricket Championship Draws Huge Crowd to the Oculus

A ten-day stretch of watch parties on a big screen outside the Oculus at the World Trade Center culminated with sellout for the championship match in which India defeated South Africa. The US was eliminated earlier but had pulled a stunning upset win vs. Pakistan.

| 03 Jul 2024 | 11:49

Cricket may still be finding its feet in the bustling metropolis of New York, but for its passionate fans, the recent T-20 Cricket World Cup brought moments of sheer exhilaration. The city’s diverse cultural fabric united in celebration as enthusiasts flocked to the Oculus, at the World Trade Center to witness the gripping final match between India and South Africa.

”The atmosphere at Oculus is electric,” noted Abebe Jacobs, a South African living in New York. “To see cricket celebrated like any other major sport in New York is incredible.”

For some it was a chance to rekindle a sport that they grew up with in their home country. Priti Kumar, a mother of two from Mumbai, India, now residing in Queens, attended with her husband and daughter. “We grew up with cricket,” she shared. “I brought my kids here to share the joy we experienced in our childhood.”

The final match between India and South Africa on June 29 was played in Barbados, but in downtown New York City, the Oculus was transformed into a lively fan park, bustling with excitement as global fans gathered to witness the match. Indian supporters predominated, filling the venue to watch the game on large screens. There was also a notable presence of South African and other South Asian fans, along with curious Americans discovering the sport.

Despite India’s eventual triumph, cricket itself captured the hearts of many New Yorkers, who were experiencing it for the first time.

At the Oculus, fans were thrilled not only by the game itself, but also by the music, DJ sets, and activities put on by the fan club during breaks. Attendees could share their excitement by posting pictures directly on the fan park wall, which were then projected during the match. The atmosphere was lively with muppets, face painting, placard writing, and even mini net practice matches.

Cricket shares some similarities with baseball—ball, bat, runs, and umpire—but is a distinct sport with its own rich history. Cricket originated in England and is believed to have partially inspired the American version of baseball which didn’t have its first official game until 1849 in Hoboken, NJ.

Cricket features a rectangular pitch (22 yards long, 10 feet wide) with two batters stationed at each end. The bowler aims to dislodge the bails atop three stumps, dismissing the batter. The batter, meanwhile, strives to hit the ball and score runs by reaching the boundary line. Thrilling moments unfold as the bowlerattempts dismissals, while the batter tries to send the ball soaring. Nine strategicallypositioned fielders aim to catch the ball mid-air or dislodge the bails as the batters runbetween the wickets. This interplay between bat and ball, coupled with strategic fieldplacements, determines the game’s flow.Each team has ten “wickets” (chances), and once exhausted, they switch roles, with the team batting second trying to surpass the first team’s score.

Cricket comes in three formats: Test matchess, One Day Internationals (ODIs), andT20. The current World Cup featured T20, a fast-paced format where each team has 20 overs (six balls per over) to bat and bowl. This translates into high-octane excitement, forcing teams to score quickly and chase targets with urgency. The stakes are high, the tension palpable. The Oculus, typically known for its cultural events, assumed a new identity as a cricket hub during the tournament. What began as growing interest in the early rounds culminated in a sold-out final, showcasing cricket’s growing appeal in the city. The final match of ICC T-20 Cricket World Cup was a rollercoaster of emotions. India, buoyed by their aggressive play throughout the tournament, seemed poised for victoryas they posted a formidable total. India, last year’s T-20 cricket runners-up, displayedaggressive intent from the tournament’s outset. Meanwhile, South Africa, despite neverhaving reached the final of an ICC tournament in 26 years, showcased their formidable skills. In the first innings, India looked dominant as they swiftly reached 177 in the lastfive overs. Even when Reeza Hendricks fell early in South Africa’s innings, Indiaseemed in control. However, by the 15th over, South African batters had begun toassert themselves. Yet, India’s exceptional performance in the 17th, 18th, and 19thovers turned the tide decisively in their favor. Beyond the victory, standout moments likeSuryakumar Yadav’s remarkable catch to dismiss David Miller highlighted the match’sdrama and excitement, underscoring India’s ability to seize the game from SouthAfrica’s grasp.

“I was particularly amazed by the Indian fans’ slogans, especially for Jasprit Bumrah,” said Lauren Koza, a South African fan. “They started with a small buzz whenever the ball was in his hand. As he ran in to bowl, the buzz grew into a thunderous roar”.

Bumrah proved himself as a promising player by taking two crucial wickets for just 18runs, much to delight his supporters. Lauren said, Despite South Africa’s loss, it was challenging to choose whom to admire, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, and Virat Kohlieach demonstrated exceptional skill throughout the match.

Before this match, I had the opportunity to attend other watch parties, including one on June 9th at a nightclub in Midtown Manhattan. It was transformed into a vibrant celebration for the cricket match between India and Pakistan—two of the most revered rivals in the cricketing world. Despite its size, the venue buzzed with 250 passionate fans. “The joy and excitement are contagious. Watching cricket in Manhattan is truly incredible,” Alisha Parampil, an Indian-born administrative officer from Manhattan, told me. She brought her Chinese friend to share in the experience. "I grew up with cricket,” Alisha explained. “So when the sport came to New York, I immediately searched for tickets. When I found them to be quite expensive, I opted for a watch party instead, to enjoy the matches in my own way. "The atmosphere at that watch party was also incredible, said Sheikh Asrar Hossain, a resident of Queens Village who attended the watch party. “People sat side by side, watching the match on a big screen that recreated the stadium experience. Attendees brought their flags and cheered energetically, even dancing on tables when their team scored.

“Cricket lovers don’t just watch the game; it’s a whole day or half-day affair,” he said. “We need unlimited food, music, and many other things,” he added. Despite the limited presence of American spectators, the USA team has won hearts with their impressive performances, securing victories over Canada and Pakistan. As immigrant communities draw enthusiastic crowds, cricket is poised to deepen its roots in the US through events like the T-20 World Cup tournament. The home team’s potential has resonated strongly, especially among second-generation immigrants who proudly call America home. Cricket is gradually making its mark in the hearts of Americans. While only a handful of bars currently screen matches, interest is growing. I must say: Get ready, America—the enchanting world of cricket awaits!