NEW YORK (AP) – Cricket fans came out in the wee hours of the morning Saturday, crowding into bars that normally would be closing but that made an exception for the World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka.
About eight hours later, or about the length of two Red Sox-Yankees games, most of the spectators went home happy after India overtook Sri Lanka to win its first world title since the 1980s.
“This is really big,” New York University student Karthik Ventakesh screamed over the din at the Red Lion in Greenwich Village, two doors from the spot where Bob Dylan once played for folkies in the 1960s. “Cricket is by far India’s most popular sport.”
At the tiny JujoMukti Tea Lounge in the East Village, fans packed in to watch the match on a screen set up near the front door. Some sat cross-legged on the floor. At the Village Pourhouse on 46th Street in the theater district, every table was reserved ahead of time and every seat at the bar was taken.
“We had about 15, 20 people at 4:30 a.m.,” manager Casey Pratt said as he surveyed the room of well over 150 customers by 8:30 a.m. “I think most of them were still waking up at that point so it wasn’t too rowdy yet.”
Sri Lanka fan Heshan Fernando, a graduate student, took a train from Queens well before sun up to get to the bar along with friend Munich Agrawal, an India supporter.
“My country has been affected by the tsunami, by civil war,” Fernando said. “This is huge for us.”
To the uninitiated, cricket can seem a stodgy affair that lasts for days, with each player batting for hours at a time. But U.S. sports fans would recognize some elements familiar to baseball and even football.
The biggest cheers were reserved for when a batter smacked the ball over a low barrier surrounding the field and into the bleachers — the baseball equivalent of a home run, but worth six runs in cricket.
Similar to football, there was hushed tension when officials reviewed instant replay to see whether a ball thrown by a field player had arrived at the wicket ahead of the batsman.
India’s population of more than 1 billion dwarfs Sri Lanka’s 20 million. And India fans Saturday far outnumbered their Sri Lankan counterparts at the Red Lion. But that didn’t stop Kusal DeSilva from waving a large Sri Lankan flag and bellowing at the top of his lungs in support of his team.
“There are about two Sri Lanka fans in here and I’m one of them,” said DeSilva, the head of sales for a software company. “I’m outnumbered, but I have no shame. We’re a small island, but we have a lot of guts, a lot of heart.”
Things looked sketchy for India when its first batter went out on just the second ball, victim of a wicked fastball by Sri Lanka’s speed bowler Malinga. But they stayed focused and, with the tension rising with each ball, prevailed when Mahendra Singh Dhoni cracked a ball into the stands for six runs to clinch the title.
On their way out, some India fans embraced DeSilva and offered the words all sports fans must face at one time or another: “Better luck next time.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)