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Rob Walter (Proteas head coach), Aaron Boone (NY Yankees head coach), Aiden Markram and Kagiso Rabada at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Picture: SUPPLIED
Rob Walter (Proteas head coach), Aaron Boone (NY Yankees head coach), Aiden Markram and Kagiso Rabada at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Picture: SUPPLIED

Having won their opening match of the 2024 ICC T20 World Cup on Monday, the Proteas were able to sample the sights and sounds of New York, which ended with a baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. 

Cricket may be trying to leave its footprint in the US, but “America’s favourite pastime” will never lose its status as that country’s most popular summer activity. 

From Times Square — where a large electronic display welcomed the SA players to one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions — to Central Park and then as spectators at a NY Yankees game, the Proteas did all the visitors’ activities on the first of two days off in the Big Apple.

They don’t play again until Saturday — against the Netherlands, a match that a decade ago might have been considered easy but will demand similar planning and execution as they exhibited against Sri Lanka in their tournament opener. 

The Dutch have inflicted two defeats on SA at the past two ICC World events, with the loss in the 2022 T20 World Cup particularly painful as it knocked the Proteas out of the tournament. 

What non-cricket aficionados in the US made of the first World Cup in New York is anyone’s guess. 

Judging by local media coverage, the tournament is viewed as a novelty. The NY Daily News has the World Cup among a list of “seven things to do in New York” over the next few days, highlighting a fan zone set up near the site of the World Trade Centre memorial. The NY Post tabloid was more focused on the terrorist threat from Isis before the match between India and Pakistan.

Monday’s match at the Nassau County International Stadium in Long Island, about 90 minutes from the Manhattan CBD, would have done little to attract a new audience.    

A pitch more tailor-made for the first day of a Test match saw batters from Sri Lanka and SA struggle. Not that that drew sympathy from Anrich Nortjé, who took four wickets in the Proteas’ six-wicket win.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the wickets. It’s nice for bowlers as well. We are also allowed to get some sort of assistance,” he said.

With one team dismissed in the 20th over for 77 and the other chasing that score down in the 16th, it was far from the thrill-a-ball bat-a-thons seen in the Indian Premier League recently. The ICC will be desperate for its marquee encounter between India and Pakistan — which was sold out within minutes — at the same venue on Sunday to provide a better spectacle.

“I thought it was a brilliant game. It was still a close game. Another wicket or two, and things might have been different. We might have been in a bit more trouble,” Nortjé said.

That is the perspective of a cricket insider, but attracting new eyes to the sport will not occur if other matches unfold in a similar fashion.

Nortjé, who was part of the inaugural Major League Cricket tournament in 2023, said it was still unbelievable to be playing a match in New York. “I never thought those two [things] would go together — cricket and New York City — but it was a great atmosphere, it was nice to see the support.”

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