Many Indian fans in the USA had not imagined they would watch India play a series in the country. Now that it is happening, they are eager to take in as much of the action as they can.
‘Fine Indian cuisine’ read a catering van parked outside the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida on Friday. The American flag was pitched right behind the van. It was the perfect scene – India officially touring the USA for the first time, with the venue set to host two T20Is between India and West Indies on August 27 and 28. And wherever the cricket goes, the fans seem to follow, be it Chennai or Florida.
The match will not start until 10 am local time on Saturday, but that hasn’t stopped fans from arriving at the ground to cheer for their team. Indian cricket fans poured in to catch their team’s practice session on the eve of the match, hoping to get autographs from Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Chris Gayle. “Dwayne Bravo,” yelled one such fan, on seeing Bravo walk back after practice. The West Indies allrounder waved back to loud cheers. On a walk around the stadium, you could hear catch phrases in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and English. It almost felt like the tournament was being played in India.
Fans flew in from across the country – Chicago, Louisiana, Washington DC, and Los Angeles – directly to the stadium, keen to catch the action. For most, this is a first chance to watch an international cricket match in person. Indian students in the USA especially were seen boarding flights in Washington DC, eager to get to Lauderhill. The Indians and Indian-Americans gathered at the Reagan National Airport said the series felt “surreal” because when they left India, they never imagined they would watch an international series in person in the country, let alone one featuring India.
Cricket is more than just a sport for these Indian immigrants and second-generation Indian-Americans. It is their “mother sport,” said Mike Singh, an Indian immigrant from California. It brings them together, it makes them who they are.
Krish Patel, a 10-year-old second-generation Indian-American, grew up watching and worshipping players like Kohli and Dhoni. To be able to talk to them and get their autographs felt surreal, he said. Krish and his father, Mayank, are part of the Bolingbrook Cricket League in Illinois.
“This is a big deal for Krish. For him to see legends and future legends that he grew up watching is a big deal,” Mayank said.
For the millions of Indian immigrants in the USA, this is also something of a family reunion. Flags were waved, samosas passed around and new Bollywood dance moves exchanged. It is home away from home.
Fans were on the lookout for tickets as soon as they heard the BCCI was looking to host the series in the USA. Some even skipped work on the first day of sales to grab a few tickets. Sankar Renganathan, an IT engineer from Alabama, joked that he was the reason the server crashed.
“We had to call the phone number on the website to get the tickets,” added his friends.
What do the supporters hope to accomplish out of their weekend in Florida?
“We want to see a tough game. But we want India to win,” said Udayakumar Karnam, also an IT engineer from Alabama, who flew down with his friends.
Some want to see India win, but for others it’s a chance to be part of history, a part of India’s first official series in the USA. That, said Mayank Patel, has made all the travelling worth it.
There were West Indies fans at the stadium too, cheering for their during a practice session on Friday, with banter about who would be the best batsman and bowler from the team.
James Johnson, an immigrant from Trinidad & Tobago who was in Florida for the Caribbean Premier League, said that to be able to watch West Indies play in the US in person was everything he wanted.
“Of course I want West Indies to win, but if not, I am here to watch good cricket like everybody else,” Johnson said.