New York: Amid a sea of Indian shirts, fluttering Pakistan flags and deafening roars, New York cricket fans turned out in their thousands to watch greats of the game face off against each other on Saturday - in a baseball stadium.
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Footwork and cricket: Dancers perform during the All-Stars T20 series opener between Sachin's Blasters and Warne's Warriors at the Citi Field in New York on Saturday. Pic/AFP
Fans from all backgrounds helped create a party atmosphere. There were couples with babies, fathers with sons, and youths waving flags of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
There were glamorous women dressed in chic Pakistani shirts and skinny jeans, more sedate married women in dupattas.
Australian spin king Shane Warne and Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar captained two star-studded teams in a Twenty20 match designed to introduce Americans to what organisers billed as the world's second most popular sport. Warne's Warriors beat Sachin's Blasters, with Warne man of the match after claiming Tendulkar's wicket.
But it was the Indian star whom most of the overwhelming South Asian expatriate crowd had come to see. "Sachin, Sachin, Sachin," screamed the stadium in unison, hundreds wearing blue Indian shirts, many with the record-breaking batsman's name emblazoned on the back.
'Sachin for prez'
"Sachin for President," read one banner. Snacking on hot dogs and nachos, chewing on pretzels and quaffing beer, for many it was the first time in years they had watched live cricket in America, long starved of the sport. The three-hour match will be followed by games in Houston and Los Angeles.
Warne told reporters 36,000 people had packed into the Citi Field — home of the New York Mets baseball team — for the game.
"I thought it was fantastic, the atmosphere was amazing," he said. At the end, the players lapped the pitch, waving and applauding the crowd, which Tendulkar compared to the home crowd at the Mets' World Series.
"The whole idea of Cricket All Stars is that, to try to get as many nations together to celebrate this," Tendulkar said. "It was electrifying."
"The music, crowd, atmosphere - it was nothing not to like. How could you not enjoy that experience today? It was fantastic," said Warne.
Set a target of 141 by Sachin's Blasters, Warne's Warriors romped home with 16 balls to spare on Saturday.
Shane Warne snared three wickets, including that of Tendulkar and Brian Lara For the Blasters, opener Virender Sehwag hit the series' first half-century which came off just 22 deliveries.