All-Stars bring taste of cricket to America

International players display their bat-and-ball game at Citi Field

All-Stars bring taste of cricket to America

NEW YORK -- Outside, the fans poured out of the subway and picked up placards that read "4" on one side and "6" on the other. Symbols of cricket long balls, their purpose was to be held in the air whenever a batter hit a ball to the boundary, worth four runs, or over the boundary in the air, worth six.

Inside, the grass still read "World Series" and the first-base dugout still declared the Mets to be National League champions -- lettering that's likely to remain through next season. But in short center field, just beyond second base, was a 66-foot-long rectangle of hard-pressed, very short grass that had been trucked in from Indianapolis and planted in one piece at Citi Field after the Royals won baseball's championship earlier in the week.

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There was a different kind of bat-and-ball game played at the Mets' home on Saturday, the opener of the Cricket All-Star Series, which will continue next week in Houston and Los Angeles. Cricket, baseball's great uncle, was on full display in front of 36,000 fans, nearly all of whom knew exactly what they were watching.

Of course, that's not the point of this tour, which represents the first time that the sport's greatest stars are playing in the United States. The idea of these games is to show the usually exciting Twenty20 form of the sport to Americans, who typically think of cricket as a game that takes days to play and involves taking breaks for tea. In T20 cricket, however, each team sees just 120 balls, or pitches, in a game that consists of one full inning.

The primary participants acknowledged that the large majority of the crowd consisted of folks who are already big cricket fans, but they did point out that it was just the start of what they hope will eventually draw Americans to the game.

Check out photos of All-Star cricket at Citi Field

"The whole idea of the Cricket All-Stars is to get people from different nations and globalize cricket," said Sachin Tendulkar, the Hank Aaron of cricket who amassed a record 34,257 runs in international play during his long career and the captain of Sachin's Blasters, one of the two teams in this series.

The players also said they enjoyed the close proximity to the fans, who are usually much farther from the field in stadiums built for cricket.

"I was here for the Mets [during the World Series] and it was the same atmosphere," Tandulkar said.

"I thought it showed the game of cricket very well," said Shane Warne, the Sandy Koufax of cricket who is captaining his team, the victorious Warne's Warriors. "I thought that anyone who didn't know cricket enjoyed it, with the music and the crowd and the excitement. What was there not to like?

"It was a great opportunity for the fans to be close to the action. We were in the dugout, talking to the fans, taking pictures."

Another player said, "It was the first time I ever got a selfie taken in the outfield."

Though the game was perhaps not as crisp as it could have been, given that the onetime star players are all retired from regular competition, the fans relished seeing many of the game's most accomplished players. They cheered, chanted, raised their native countries' flags (mostly India), sung and did the wave.

There was a huge roar when India's Tendulkar took the field as part of the first two-batter partnership. And there was another after the match's sixth pitch, when Australia's Warne, came in to bowl the second over -- the second set of six pitches.

Even though Tendulkar was retired on the 48th ball of the game, at the end of the eighth over, on a line drive caught by a leaping short fielder playing what would be the second-base position in baseball, and even though Muttiah Muralitharan of Warne's Warriors and the nation of Sri Lanka bowled a maiden over -- no runs scored on his six pitches -- there were plenty of long balls. Sixteen were hit out of the playing field, some of them over the outfield fences, but many into the seats down the baseball foul lines, a few into the field boxes and at least one into the Mets' dugout. And of course, because the fans in attendance knew better, they followed cricket's custom of returning the ball to the field.

The game ended on a home run -- pardon, a six. It was hit by Jonty Rhodes of South Africa in the Warriors' half of the inning, just three balls after he pulled the ball into the third-base seats from his right-handed batting position beyond second base. Officially, Warne's Warriors beat Sachin's Blasters by six wickets with 16 balls remaining, but really, the final score was 141-140. Rhodes' second six put Warne's team in front and that was it.

The leading hitters were Verender Sehwag, Sachin's leadoff hitter from India who recorded 55 runs and inspired chants of "Vero, Vero!" and Warne's Ricky Ponting of Australia, who contributed 48 runs. Ponting scored 27,483 runs in his international playing career. And Warne recorded three outs (wickets) in the four overs (24 balls) he bowled.

Vishal Sarmalkar and Ganesh Kadam took the 7 train together to see Tendulkar, with whom they said they played cricket in high school in Mumbai. Sarmalkar, who still lives in Mumbai, made a pitstop on his way to San Francisco to see his friend, who lives in New York. They remembered Tendulkar as "very disciplined and so focused ... He spent most of his time on the field."

The tour moves to Minute Maid Park in Houston for a match on Wednesday and concludes Saturday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

"Hopefully people can take the similarities to baseball and get it," Ponting said, "and hopefully [that will] get more Americans watching."

Bobbie Dittmeier is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.