Evander and I (Martin) witnessed history on Saturday when we attended the first Cricket All-Stars T20 smackdown in Citi Field, home of the Mets baseball team, in Flushing, New York. The Cricket All-Stars featured a “who’s who” of the world’s best cricketers from the last three decades: from the venerable West Indian fast bowlers Courtney Walsh and Sir Curtley Ambrose (both aged 53) to comparative young uns, such as the Sri Lankan giants Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara (a mere 38), who only retired from the game this year. In fact, six of the eight leading run scorers and three of the top five wicket takers in cricket history were present.
The teams were led by the Albert Spalding of global cricket, Shane Warne (who doubles as the greatest leg-spinner the world has seen), and the most famous player in the world, Sachin Tendulkar—whose every utterance, move, and sighting on the big screen was greeted with rapturous cheers from a crowd of 30,000, the vast majority of whom were of Indian ancestry and for whom the chance to see him in the flesh was an opportunity they never thought would be theirs. It’s hard to convey the level and pitch of excitement that hummed around the ground at the fact that “The Little Master” was gracing us with his presence. Suffice to say, however, that when the crowd saw a sign that had a picture of Sachin with the legend “God Blessed the United States,” the sentiments were a mixture of admiration at the fan’s wit and an acknowledgment that perhaps, indeed, this was a darsana.
It was perhaps only natural that, given the age of the players, the game itself was more an echo of glories past than present cut-and-thrust. But it was a real game, and you could still see the skills at which these greats had excelled, and, in former Australian captain Ricky Ponting’s case, the competitive spirit that drove them to the top of their sport.
I’m not sure what the cricketers themselves made of the whole experience. But it’s possible that the titans were as awestruck by the lineup, the location, and the masses of cricket fans as we were of them. When South African all-rounder Shaun Pollock struck a delivery from the great South African fast bowler Allan Donald only to be caught on the boundary by Kallis, it was difficult not to be as amazed by that combination as the fact that the three of them had taken 1043 Test wickets combined. When Virendar Sehwag strolled out to open the batting with Sachin, you were observing a pair that had amassed 74 Test centuries and 26,699 one-day-international runs between them. That would have been a moment worth pondering whether you were on the field or not.
This was not the first international cricket game in the United States, nor even in New York City (that honor goes to a match up between the U.S. and Canada in 1844). But there was something momentous about the occasion that made it seem unique and, like many sightings of the divine, transformational. When Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar steamed in from the “Apple End” and delivered a nasty rising delivery to the usually phlegmatic human Dreadnought Jacques Kallis, and then beamed a broad smile that proclaimed, “See! I’ve still got it!”), the crowd roared their approval. Nobody cared that the Rawalpindi Express now more often runs on the local track; it reminded them of former glories and of the many hours they’d spent watching these masters ply their trade when both fan and cricketer were young. It was nostalgia condensed to its elemental, nucleic simplicity—and no less explosive for it.
The Cricket All-Stars play in Houston tomorrow (November 11) and then go on to Los Angeles. It seems almost certain that they’ll be back—a little wiser, a lot richer, and with even more fanfare—to NYC, and Right Off the Bat recommends you book your tickets as soon as you can. We can guarantee some kind of revelation.