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Cricket crash course, India-Pakistan's T20 thriller helps capture the imagination

The cricket match is about to restart and I’m chatting up Al, a 50-year-old man who grew up in India and just sent his friends a picture of the clouds.

He’s been here in the States for 20 years, but back in Chennai, the friends he grew up with won’t stop texting him about the rain delay that threatened to clear out this match before it even started.

“They’re asking me, what’s the weather like?” he says. “ ‘Can you look at the sky and see whether the clouds are clearing?’ I had to literally take a picture of the sky clearing and send it to them.

“I said, ‘10 minutes, bro, hang on. I spoke to the weather gods. They promised me they’ll clear up.’ It’s that crazy.”

3 India’s Jasprit Bumrah celebrates with teammate Rohit Sharma after Pakistan’s Azam Khan was dismissed during the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group. AFP via Getty Images

Finally, after two delays, the gods have obliged. The sun is out. The biggest international cricket match in the world is taking place on Long Island, in front of a crowd of first- and second-generation Americans clad in blue for India and green for Pakistan, and the emotion is total joy at the fact that they get to be here.

“It’s beyond words,” Al tells me. “Were you here when the anthems were played? Did you feel that? Every grain of sand, every blade of grass in the near vicinity would have felt that vibration.”

Some background: they’re playing this game here as part of the T20 World Cup, a biannual tournament that’s being co-hosted by the U.S. T20 refers to the format. One of the things most people know about cricket is that it takes five days to play, which is true, sometimes. Most international matches are now played in a one-day format; T20 is an even shorter version that’s meant to appeal to a larger audience, where each team gets 20 overs — a set of six balls.

Neelay and Baljit Bhatt, a couple from Indianapolis who flew in for the game, spend most of it answering any question I have before it can form in my head. They’re India fans, and it’s going poorly at the start.

Pakistan won the coin toss — eliciting a roar unlike any I’ve ever heard for a coin toss at a football game — and fielded first, a huge advantage on a wet field where the ball won’t travel far. Then, after the rain delay, they take out Virat Kohli after just four runs, which is roughly equivalent to striking out Mickey Mantle, only if Mickey Mantle was then not allowed to hit for the rest of the game.

Amad, the Pakistan fan to the left in the row above me, is chanting for Pakistan every two minutes and losing his voice. He’s 29, from Queens, but has family in Lahore, the second-largest city in the country, near the Indian border.

“It means everything,” he says. “Right now, I have cousins sending me videos from Pakistan. They have the streets shut down. They have screenings going on all over the country. It’s being celebrated as a national holiday.”

It looks like they’ll have more to celebrate soon. Pakistan have beaten India just once in 16 World Cup matches between the regular format and T20. They hold India to 119 runs and get 10 wickets, which I gather is enough to make them heavily favored before they bat. My college roommate, an Indian-American, is texting me that his team needs to get it together and the situation doesn’t improve once Pakistan starts batting.

The first Pakistan batter accounts for 31 runs. They’re going to catch 119 easily. India’s win probability, per ESPN’s CricInfo, gets to 1.98 percent with more steady Pakistan hitting. The crowd — mostly India fans — is dead.

3 Fakhar Zaman of Pakistan leaves the field after being dismissed during the ICC Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup on Sunday. Getty Images

Then, in comes Jasprit Bumrah for India and Baljit leans over to tell me he’s considered one of the best bowlers out there. Think Mariano Rivera. Think the 1999 World Series. The crowd is behind him. I don’t know much, but I know Pakistan can’t hit this guy. Pakistan gets just three runs in an over, then just two from the next one. It’s an implosion.

Suddenly, Pakistan need 32 runs from the last 21 balls. Then they need 26 from 16. We’re counting down like New Year’s. The crowd is chanting Bumrah’s name every few minutes. They need 18 from 6. They need 16 from 3, then hit one to the boundary for four runs. They need 12 from 2, which means they need two sixes — the equivalent of home runs. The batter hits one towards us in the East stand. No one can look. It lands just short.

India are going to do it. The final score is 119-113/7. I look to my left and Amad is already gone. The Bhatts want me to take a picture with them and, what the hell, I oblige.

3 India celebrates its Cricket World Cup win over Pakistan on Sunday. Depak Mailk/Shutterstock

Earlier in the day, talking about their daughter, who spent most of the match playing with the family iPad, Baljit joked that she would be more into it if the Fever were playing. “She’s in the conversion process,” she said.

Right now, I feel like mine just finished.

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