‘Super Bowl on steroids’: New York gears up for cricket’s hottest rivalry

<span>There were empty seats at the Nassau County ground for India’s victory against <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Ireland;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Ireland</a>, but there will be a full house against Pakistan.</span><span>Photograph: Pankaj Nangia/ICC/Getty Images</span>

There has not been a match between India and Pakistan yet that did not have plenty riding on it one way or another. The rivalry, which stretches over 59 Tests, 135 one-day internationals and 12 T20s in 75 years, is as intense as any in international sport. But this latest game between the teams is being played for strange and unfamiliar stakes.

Over this past week, it has become clear the success of the entire New York leg of the T20 World Cup is going to hinge on it and that the whole multimillion dollar project, which involved the construction of a 34,000-seat stadium, has been organised around this fixture.

The Nassau County ground was not sold out for any of the first three group games. The combined attendance only just about equalled its capacity. The architects made the place so big that even the 20,000 spectators who turned out for India’s win against Ireland seemed a little lost inside its vast scaffold grandstands.

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Tickets for India v Pakistan, on the other hand, are long gone. The few that are available on resale start at $700 (£550) each – a snip next to the final hospitality spots, which cost $10,000. A lot of the corporate boxes, empty all week, are going to be used for this game before they are disassembled again.

Most locals do not even know the match is happening, but the few who do are not talking about much else. It seems just about everyone who is anyone in the Pakistani- and Indian-American communities is going to be there and everyone else wants to know how they can join them.

“Pretty much everyone I see asks me for a ticket,” said the USA Cricket chairman, Venu Pisike. The USA’s opening bowler Ali Khan, meanwhile, sighed: “Oh, man, don’t even go there. I’ve had to stop replying to the requests. I don’t even mess with the tickets for that match, it’s crazy.”

Never mind the actual match, you cannot get into the viewing party being hosted by the New York Mets at Citi Field. They’re expecting 27,000 along to watch the game on the big screen, while another 5,000 or so are due at a similar event a few miles from Eisenhower Park in Cedar Creek Park. That is before you start adding on all the people following the game in restaurants, bars and corner stores around the city.

The little town of Westbury has no idea what’s about to hit it. “We don’t know what to expect,” said the county executive, Bruce Blakeman, “but we’re told it’s going to be like the Super Bowl on steroids.”

A hundred extra police patrols have been laid on in the district and 300 local officers will be on duty at the ground, plus an undisclosed number of reinforcements from Suffolk County, the state police and FBI. They have got snipers on the nearby rooftops, SWAT teams on every gate, flatbed trucks blocking every route into the venue and a team of 50 officers monitoring “every inch of the venue” on cameras from a remote location.

According to the police commissioner, Patrick Ryder, it is the biggest thing to happen in the county since President Obama passed through in 2012. “We consider this as the same level of threat as the presidential visit,” he said. “But the operation itself is much bigger because that was only one person and this is over 30,000.”

The ground is as ready as it is ever going to be. The pitches, grown in beds shipped over from Australia, have been pretty wild all week. Coaches and batsmen have been complaining about erratic bounce and three players were hit during India’s match against Ireland. The groundstaff put in 24 hours of emergency work afterwards and if the batsmen still found it hard to time the ball during Ireland’s second game against Canada on Friday, at least no one else had to retire hurt. The sides managed to make it past 100 runs too, something no other team had managed to do.

The ICC may be independent but it still has to answer to the Board of Control for Cricket in India and its broadcast partners, who generate 85% of the game’s revenues. The prospect of this match being played on an unfit and even dangerous pitch was making the administrators more nervous than the batters.

The teams themselves are well used to the hoopla around these games. The state of relations between the countries means India and Pakistan play each other only in international tournaments, but since the ICC always ensures they are paired together India and Pakistan have played each other 18 times in the past decade.

The players, who are the only people who understand how it feels to be in the middle of a match that regularly draws an audience of almost 500 million, have developed a kind of kinship with each other as a consequence. They tend to get on better than their politicians do.

India, who crushed Ireland by eight wickets here on Wednesday, are looking formidable. Pakistan, who lost in the tournament’s first shock to the USA in a super over in Dallas on Thursday, are not. Whoever wins, the organisers will settle for a couple of good scores, a close finish, a handful of sixes and a clean getaway for the VIPs.