If You Build It (a Cricket Stadium on Long Island), Will They Come? - 4 minutes read

Late last year, it was announced that New York would host a handful of cricket’s T20 World Cup games, in June. One thing was missing: a venue. Since then, a nearly thirty-four-thousand-seat temporary stadium has been under construction on a weedy field in Eisenhower Park, in Nassau County—like “Field of Dreams,” with patches of clover instead of cornstalks. On a recent morning, Asim Khizar Gujjar, the manager of the Long Island United Cricket Club, a group of local amateurs who play at the park, checked it out. “It’s pretty hard to explain to Americans what cricket is,” Khizar, who wore a black Adidas jacket, jeans, and Nikes, said. “Start from baseball. There’s a pitcher and there’s a batter. He’s pitching it and he’s smacking it. Then, once you get close to it, you’ll be, like, You know what, this is a lot more complicated.”

Khizar works as a chauffeur, and he had driven his black Tesla to the park. He has lived on Long Island—now in Valley Stream—since 2015, having emigrated from Pakistan at the age of eighteen. “The day I migrated, I thought, Cricket is gone,” he said. After two months, he saw some kids playing tape ball—a crude version of the sport—in a park in Bay Shore. They told him about Long Island United, which has four teams and doubles as a social club. Khizar is a batter for his team, with a talent for hitting sixes, cricket’s equivalent of home runs. “Last year, we won a couple of tournaments!” he said. (The team donated the prize money to flood-relief efforts in Pakistan.)

At Eisenhower Park, he tallied the hazards. The ground was lumpy and undulating. Trees encroached on the usual playing area, as on a golf course. “See the potholes?” he asked. Nearby, the construction team was at work finishing the stands. A group of officials had gathered for a tour of the work in progress. Don Lockerbie, a venue director for the United States’ organizing group, greeted Khizar and led everyone into a makeshift war room. Explaining why New York was chosen for the venue, he said, “The first-ever international sporting event—in 1844—was a cricket match in Manhattan!” (Even earlier, in 1778, George Washington, between skirmishes with the British, was described as playing “at Wicket.”)

A slide show began. Jeff Keas, an architect with the firm Populous, clicked through renderings of the stadium. It loosely resembled a bowl, with large stands of seats on two sides, and suites and cabanas on the others. “This is all a kit of parts, like a Meccano set,” Keas said. He paused on a slide showing the suites: “To add a little slice of Americana, we have cabanas, loge boxes, party decks, bunker suites.”

“There might be a d.j.,” Lockerbie added.

They were still deciding on food options. “It can’t be hamburgers and hot dogs,” Keas said. (There will be vegetable samosas, halal lamb burgers, hot and cold chai, and shikanji, a spiced lemonade.)

Hard hats were produced and yellow vests donned. Will Madison, whose company, Arena Americas, is supplying the stadium parts, led the group up narrow stairways that floated dozens of feet off the ground, and into the partially built stands. “Everything’s designed so a low-grade hurricane can blow through and we’re still O.K.,” he said. Was he worried about the glass windows in the suites? “They assured me they cannot hit a six up here,” Madison said. Khizar looked skeptical.

The ground inside the stadium was just dirt, soon to be sodded over with Kentucky bluegrass from a farm in New Jersey. The pitches—twenty-two-yard strips of compressed grass, dirt, and clay, on which play occurs—were also being prepared off-site, in Florida.

Khizar had been distressed when he failed to snag a general-admission ticket to the most anticipated match, Pakistan vs. India, which sold out online in two minutes. (Scalpers are selling seats for fifteen hundred dollars.) Thankfully, a teammate had an extra.

After the tournament is over, the stadium will be disassembled and carted away, and the grass pitches will be replaced by artificial turf. “And then it’s people’s memories,” Keas said.

On his way home, Khizar stopped in Idlewild Park, a preserve consisting mostly of saltwater marsh, next to J.F.K. airport. “This is the best cricket ground we have,” he said. “If I didn’t know how to play cricket, I would have never settled in New York.” He added, “The last time that I cried was when Pakistan lost to India in 2022.” The Idlewild playing field was within a cozy ring of trees. In the middle, a local school team practiced. “These kids are Punjabi, Gujarati, Pathan,” Khizar said. “This is cricket, man.” ♦

Source: The New Yorker

Powered by NewsAPI.org