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'Party in the USA' but Pakistan and India await for T20 co-hosts

USA fans made plenty of noise as their team won their debut T20 World Cup match against Canada in Dallas on Saturday. (ROBERT CIANFLONE)
USA fans made plenty of noise as their team won their debut T20 World Cup match against Canada in Dallas on Saturday. (ROBERT CIANFLONE)

"Cricket? Erm, is it a team game?" asked the slightly puzzled Uber driver taking his passenger towards the Grand Prairie Cricket Stadium in Texas on Saturday.

Had the driver been one of the curious American-born spectators who ventured inside the venue and witnessed the USA's first ever T20 World Cup game -- a pulsating seven-wicket victory over Canada -- he would have had the answer.

Yes, team game it is, but in the shortest form it is also one that can be largely won by the brilliance of an individual.

For the USA's maiden victory, in front of a passionate crowd inside the purpose built, 7,000 capacity home of Major League Cricket, that individual was Aaron Jones.

Jones' unbeaten 94 of 40 balls, featuring 14 boundaries, ten of them sixes, with the stadium PA blasting out Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA" after the biggest hits, transformed what could have been a very low key American debut in elite cricket into a spectacular celebration.

"Especially because America is not really a 'cricketing country'. I wanted to win the first game of the tournament for our fans and we did that," a smiling Jones said after the game.

Now the USA must prepare for a much bigger test of their credentials in the sport's elite, when they take on Pakistan, at the same venue, on Thursday.

- Converting Americans? -

But there is a bigger context to this tournament for the co-hosts because as much as organiser's play down the attempt to convert American sports fans to the pleasures of the old game, part of the whole idea of holding the biennial tournament in the USA is to establish some firmer roots for the sport here.

There were two things to note about the crowd at Grand Prairie -- as expected the majority of spectators were drawn from the Indian community in Texas but as they showed throughout, they are fervent backers of the national team of their adopted country.

Every one of New York born but Barbados-raised Jones' sixes was greeted with a massive roar and the final one, to seal victory, set off wild celebrations in the stands.

The second element was that, scattered among those Indian-heritage fans were local Americans who have, to a greater or lesser degree, been won over by the game.

Sean Fortner, who drove three hours from Houston with his family and friends, was attending his first ever match but said he had watched many games on television after studying Indian society and culture at University.

"I watched it for a long time, trying to figure it all out," he told AFP, "Finally I got one of my Indian friends to explain all the rules to me and I just got hooked on it".

So much so that Fortner even made a seven-minute video explainer that he shared with his companions before they made the trip to the game.

Another Texan first-time fan Ryan Ubl from Dallas, was also at his first game.

"I got into it really during the ODI World Cup in India. I worked with a bunch of people from India and they were very enthusiastic about it all and so I watched a bit of it and tickets weren't so expensive, so here I am," he said.

Ubl is a baseball fan and knows there are limits to how far cricket could go in the USA but thinks there is a future beyond this tournament.

"Obviously I don't think it'll ever eclipse baseball but it could carve out its own little niche," he said.

Fortner agrees even if he knows the sporting mainstream remains far away.

"Just watching how hard it has been for soccer to get a (foothold) when half the people that live here love soccer already, it's a hard hill to climb. But it can catch on, we know fandom and we get loyal," he said.

"We're not going to get a lot of fans but we'll get loyal fans," he said.

Jones, still buzzing from his spectacular innings was understandably in no mood for measured considerations even with Pakistan and top-ranked India to come.

His accent may be Bajan but the attitude and rhetoric was all-American.

"We want to play fearless cricket. We want to play hard cricket. We want to play smart cricket and I think we're going to go into the Pakistan game with the same mindset. We want to play fearless cricket regardless of who we play against," he said.

sev/dj