Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Farewell to Nassau Stadium, New York’s Mandala

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Just under 6 months ago, on January 17, 2024, the ICC unveiled the design of the New York venue for the Men’s T20 World Cup: the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium. 

Construction started that same week, and the 34,000 capacity stadium was ready in just 106 days.

On Wednesday, the stadium held its eighth and final T20 World Cup match, as co-hosts USA took on India and made it a thrilling and unexpectedly competitive, though losing in the end.  

Always intended to be temporary, the stadium is already being dismantled. In a matter of days, the corner of Eisenhower Park it inhabited will revert to nothing but grassy fields, with virtually no sign that anything was ever there.

To say this moment is acutely bittersweet for American cricket fans, and New Yorkers in particular, is a massive understatement. 

Like a Sand Mandala

The short but glorious life of the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium is highly reminiscent of a Tibetan sand mandala. 

The mandala, Sanskrit for “circle,” originated in the Rig Veda. It represents the universe in its ideal form, and features intricate geometric patterns, shapes and images rich in symbolism

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, monks work diligently for several weeks to create a highly intricate and stunning mandala using many different colors of sand. 

Photo credit: Colonel Warden

Then, just as soon as the mandala is completed, it is wiped away in a highly ritualized ceremony, symbolizing the temporary and transitory nature of everything. Some of the sand is given away; some is deposited into a flowing body of water to spread it throughout the world.  

This stadium, too, was a work of art

Here is some New York perspective on the accomplishment that is the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium: Metlife Stadium (home to the NFL’s Giants) and the new Yankee Stadium each took two and a half years to build. 

Red Bull Stadium (the 25,000 capacity MLS stadium) took three and a half years. 

So 106 days to build a functional stadium is completely unheard of, and unparalleled in its ambition and execution.

And once completed, the stadium very successfully staged eight high profile matches in 10 days and hosted over 150,000 total fans from the New York area and far beyond. 

Enough about the pitch please

We all know that there have been disgruntled voices about the New York pitch from the start. 

In short: batters did not love it, but bowlers did. 

Jasprit Bumrah, after the India-Pakistan match, said it best: 

“When it’s bat against bat, I just turn off the TV… When it’s a challenge between bat and ball, that is the game I like – so I’m very happy.”

As T20 franchise leagues around the world make their steady and seemingly inevitable progression towards 720-run innings, perhaps it was good to dial back this trend. 

And bowler and batter alike at the tournament and around the world agreed that the New York pitch made for some really strategic, exciting cricket. 

India vs. USA: the final layer of sand

In the runup to the World Cup, the most anticipated New York match by far was India vs. Pakistan. And indeed, it did not disappoint: delivering an absolute thriller

That said, Wednesday’s India vs. USA match ended up being the most significant one held in Nassau Stadium and provided the perfect ending to the New York spell. 

The crowd of 31,219 was just shy of the India-Pakistan total, and once again seemed to be 85-90% India supporters. 

So much so that the merch stands were not even selling Team USA jerseys.  

But it became very clear early on that Team USA were there to prove that their shock victory over Pakistan was not a fluke and to book their spot in the Super Eights. 

After a rough start, the US put up a respectable 110 in their innings, led by Nitish Kumar’s 27 off 23 and Steven Taylor’s 24. 

Then when India started to bat, Saurabh Netravalkar took the new ball and started bowling wonders. 

In the first over, he got Virat Kohli out for a Golden Duck – the first time anyone had done that in a World Cup. Two overs later, he got Rohit Sharma out for three. That seemed to win over the crowd – who were mostly American as well, after all, even if attending to cheer on India. 

The US pulled together a valiant defense between tight bowling and solid fielding. However, after a couple of missed catches, and an unfortunate 5 run stop-clock penalty, the US fell short, and India won by 7 wickets with 10 balls left. But by the end, the crowd was cheering on the US more than India. 

Like co-hosts South Korea making a shock run to the semifinals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and the adopted home team of  Morocco doing the same in 2022, the US looks well positioned to advance to the next round. That will only increase the local excitement around the tournament – and the sport – even more.

To top it all off, the US-India match gave us one more critical glimpse into the future. 

With Monank Patel out with an injury, Aaron Jones captained the US. 

For all the talk of the US team being stacked with immigrants from cricketing countries who played at a high domestic level before coming over (which is fine – they’re just as American as anyone else), both Jones and Steven Taylor were born in the US. 

Cricket will only truly take hold as a sport in the US if kids grow up playing it and can develop into stars. In Jones and Taylor, the US has two of those already.    

We’ll take it

This was not just the last New York match of the tournament. Given the storms in Florida, this may have been Team USA’s last World Cup match on US soil. It may also be the last World Cup match in the US period.   

And if so, what a run it’s been. 

It has become cliche the last couple of weeks to hear comments like “I never imagined I’d be watching/playing World Cup cricket matches in New York…”

But for those of us cricket fans who have spent the last few decades in the US, who remember the dark ages before Willow TV; for those of us New Yorkers who lived in the sporting wilderness when it felt like we were alone, this was truly unimaginable. We dared not even dream of this. 

But that dream just came to fruition. All centered around this 34,000-seat sporting miracle in East Meadow, Long Island that for the last week and a half was the center of our world. 

Until we meet again…

And now, Nassau County International Cricket Stadium leaves us. Its components, like a mandala’s sand, are being sent out into the sporting universe to be reused at other events. 

At the risk of sounding dramatic, it’s taking a piece of our cricket souls with it. 

We are confident that someday, New York will get a permanent cricket stadium. Perhaps when MI New York complete their stadium – whether on schedule in 2027 or in the years after that. 

We are confident that whenever that stadium is built, the day will eventually come when it is regularly sold out. 

We know that in four years at the Los Angeles Olympics, international cricket will be prominently on display again in America. 

It will take a long time, but professional and international cricket will eventually find its permanent footing in the New York area as in all of the US.  

And whenever that day comes, and all along the way to that pinnacle, we will always remember this fleeting edifice built by the ICC in the shortest of orders. 

So thank you to all who made this happen. Thank you, ICC. And thank you to everyone who came through our little city to attend and cover the matches, and who participated in our fantasy coming to life. 

 

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