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American fans savour their slice of live cricket

Fans pressing up against the security barriers? The Indian cricket team must be in town Peter Della Penna

They are sporting their India jerseys. Their faces are painted with the tricolour flag. They carry posters of Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni.

You would assume they are Indians supporting their team.

Wrong. They are Americans, who've come to love and support the Indian cricket team.

Why?

Their best friend is from India and so they ended up learning the sport and rooting for Virat Kohli along with their friend. Their boyfriend is from India, and they ended up watching the Australia v India 2015 World Cup match. Or their boss is a hardcore India fan and they have the TV tuned to ESPN whenever the team is playing, and so have no other choice but to learn the game.

These were some of the stories of Americans in Central Broward Regional Park in Florida during the India v West Indies T20 series this weekend. It is one thing for a fan of Indian origin to fly down from the west or north to catch India's first official series in the USA. But it is a totally different thing for an American to fly down from states like Texas, Massachusetts and North Carolina for it.

And these particular fans were glad they did.

"It is such a good experience. I mean we get excited when we watch it on TV, but there is nothing like watching a cricket match in person," Gabi Garza, an international studies student at the University of North Texas, said.

For most American fans, the closest sport to cricket is baseball. Some of them at Sunday's T20 made the connection. Some went as far as to say they did not think baseball was as engaging as cricket.

"Cricket is baseball on steroids," Rachel B, a cricket fan from Boston who started following the sport recently with her Indian-American boss, said.

Watching the sport with a large group of Indian immigrants, expats and second generation Indian-Americans made it even better for these American fans. Many of them said the atmosphere felt more electric than that at NFL and baseball games.

"I have been to a football game. But it's nothing like it is here. The drums, the dressed-up people, the face-paintingsā€¦" said Molly Ruble, an autism researcher from North Carolina, who flew down for the series with her boyfriend Swapnil Gupta.

While some of these Americans were just starting to understand the sport, others had a deep knowledge of the technical part of it. Cricketing terms like googly and chase peppered their speech.

And they all wanted two things: for India to win, and for there to be more international cricket series in the USA.

Stephanie Reiland, a lawyer from Alabama who was in Florida with her Indian friends, echoed the sentiments of many when she said: "I'm glad that cricket is coming to the United States."