Connect with us

Sports

As a colossal match came to an oddball place, the free market howled

Published

on

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Probably the biggest sporting match on Earth in 2024 in terms of the number of rapt eyeballs plopped down here Sunday morning in a gigantic Long Island park with two golf courses, one ice hockey training center and one pop-up cricket stadium freshly installed. If that weren’t eccentric enough, some eyeballs outside the gates fluttered with urgency while trained on phones before 9 a.m., as if Eisenhower Park hosted some mad post-dawn session of addled day trading.

In a sense, it did. While great waves of fans in India blue and Pakistan green and even more elaborate attire filed in for the 10:30 a.m. start in a 34,000-seat stadium built in five months and set for disassembly come summer, the phone screens of some fans told the tale of global bigness. Their ticket hopes for the latest India-vs.-Pakistan colossus had crumbled one way or another, and now they scrolled as the free market bubbled, beckoned and menaced.

How much would they pay for this World Cup match in T20, the newest, shortest and hottest version of the world’s second-biggest sport and South Asia’s runaway biggest sport? What mighty number might lasso the desperate given the rarity of the setting, this dot of fervor amid the general American obliviousness, so far from most of the half billion or so eyeballs set to watch from the two nations abuzz, by population the world’s largest (India) and fifth largest (Pakistan)?

Well, Parth Shah and Digvijay Vaghela, Indian men from Ahmedabad who reside in Manitoba, thought they had paid $250 each on Facebook Marketplace. Those “tickets” didn’t scan.

Now, Shah scrolled while saying, “It is madness,” and deploying words such as “looting” and “disheartening.”

How does $1,636 Canadian (about $1,189 U.S.) sound? That’s per ticket.

He ushered an onlooker through the process of the third-party broker, past the part that read, “Your price is locked” — Alleluia! — and past questions such as “Are you buying as a gift?” (Does anyone like anyone else that much?) He reminded the observer of the need to factor in a dreadful duo of words that goes like this: “service fee.”

Finally, it got to the solution: $4,183 Canadian (about $3,039 U.S.).

“It’s only going up right now,” Shah said, “as we’re getting closer to the game. And you can see there’s still the same amount of tickets [available]. The problem is they” — the third parties orchestrating everything — “know whoever’s in the two-hour radius, they’ll still buy it. They’re getting the bigger fish out of the way now.”

Such hunts beset people standing here and there outside the gate beside a white hut that read both “TICKET OFFICE” and “NO ONSITE TICKET SALES.” It had people talking about how the original offering of tickets had vanished months ago in two minutes as screens froze around the world, about how they got everybody they knew to apply, about how nobody they knew won, about how prices dipped in recent weeks from outrageous to somewhat less outrageous before rediscovering outrageous. That’s all because, as the T20 World Cup plays through June mostly in the Caribbean but partly in three burgs of the United States, the loudest match happened upon a place a 30-minute train from Penn Station, in a stadium with controversial sod designed in Australia and trucked north from Florida, to a park with an outdoor concert venue named for the late Harry Chapin.

“I think for a lot of Indians, and for a lot of Pakistanis I’m sure, it’s a bucket-list, once-in-a-lifetime experience to watch India versus Pakistan, especially with this being a World Cup,” said Kiran Kunnur, who hails from Bangalore and resides in San Francisco. “And it’s not just about cricket. There’s a lot of political drama associated with India versus Pakistan, and I think a lot of people associate the cricket match with all of that.” The hard feelings and a harder border, he agreed, help stoke the curiosity once the people get to mingle far from that 2,000-mile border.

The sides have met 207 times, with Pakistan ahead 88-76-43 all told, but a rare 16 times in modern World Cups, with India 8-0 in the longer One Day International version and 7-1 in T20 after its gritty six-run win Sunday.

Rarity sells, and Kunnur paid about $1,100 for his good seat, service fee included.

“This stadium, if it was 200,000, the tickets would have sold out,” said Abid Mahmood, who traveled with wife Shanaz from Birmingham, England, to support Pakistan. He told of having snared tickets from a work contact, and he told of “2 million applications” for about 17,000 tickets. “That’s how big this game is,” he said.

On the 7 a.m. Long Island Railroad and the shuttle bus to the park had come Amit Sharma from Nepal and Nashville, Aman Thakur from India and Chicago, and Aditya Chauhan from India and Toronto. They were about to have a day to stand out among all their days, spiced with adrenaline after deciding not even 24 hours earlier that they would make the venture. “There was little hesitation as the tickets were quite high,” Sharma would write in a text from inside the stadium. “We had maybe an hour or two max to make a decision. I picked up the phone and called Aman and told him that it was not going to happen again anytime soon and that, too, in the U.S. We booked the game tickets and the flight tickets right away and flew to NYC. Aman did the same thing by calling his brother-in-law, Aditya, and convincing him as well.”

They paid $1,000 each, and they set about learning whether they would find that price reasonable.

Others reeled more. Sachit Bolisetty had come from Chicago with an $800 ticket in PDF form only to arrive at the scanners and learn about the scammers. “I tried to get in touch with the seller from StubHub in multiple ways and multiple times,” he would text in late afternoon, “but I accepted that I was scammed around the 30th phone call I made.” And so: “I just went back home and saw it with some friends.”

Five teammates from the Orlando Stars of the Florida Cricket Conference, including brothers Ammar and Sohaib Ahmed from Pakistan and Fawaz Kidwai from India, mined the exorbitant numbers. They wound up heading for Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, which had a watch party both “free” and “sold out.” That event provided quite a New York sight: Pakistan fans waiting to enter while seated beside the huge Tom Seaver statue. “It was a fun experience honestly,” Ammar wrote in a text later, “and they also had a little half-time concert.”

Well away from Citi Field, into Manhattan and all the way down to the World Trade Center, a “fan park” and a watch party boomed. Throughout the flawless afternoon the people from the two countries stood shoulder to shoulder and took turns cheering in a manner their distant border prohibits. Match commentary echoed through the air, telling of the pitch as “a bit of a lottery” — it had been troublesome in early matches — but how it had improved by Sunday. People shared the contents of pizza boxes. Children abounded. Dogs showed up. The speakers played the national anthem of Earth, the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” A cheer went through the air as India, on 119, held off Pakistan largely through the smashing bowling of Jasprit Bumrah.

Back on Long Island, three impromptu travelers boarded the train and headed toward airports while bound for Nashville, Chicago and Toronto. They sounded exhilarated and maybe even adrenalized. Said Thakur, “It’s money well-spent, and even if I had spent two grand on the ticket, that would have been money well-spent.” Said Sharma: “We all are deprived of sleep and by the time we reach our destinations, Nashville, Chicago and Canada, it will be close to midnight. And everybody works full-time so we have to work tomorrow.”

His next three words: “I won’t complain.”

Continue Reading