The ICC men's T20 World Cup cricket tournament began on Monday at the new temporary stadium at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow with a Sri Lanka vs. South Africa match. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp

They arrived early Monday morning and stayed late into the afternoon, waving flags, playing maracas and, for more than a few youngsters, happily skipping a day of school.

On Monday, Long Island was transformed into one of the centers of the cricket universe, as 12,562 enthusiastic fans converged on a new, temporary 34,000-seat stadium in East Meadow's Eisenhower Park for the start of the T20 World Cup.

South Africa handily defeated Sri Lanka during the fast-moving opening match, which proceeded with minimal traffic and parking disruptions outside the venue and no arrests, law enforcement officials said.

“Everything went exceptionally smooth,” said Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, adding that law enforcement provided medical assistance to 10 fans for minor ailments such as twisted ankles or dehydration. “Everybody stepped up and did their part in a big way.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • On Monday, 12,562 enthusiastic fans converged on a new, temporary 34,000-seat stadium in East Meadow's Eisenhower Park for the start of the T20 World Cup.
  • The opening match pitting South Africa against Sri Lanka proceeded with minimal traffic and parking disruptions outside the venue and no arrests, law enforcement officials said.
  • Nassau Police shuttered access to the park and many major area roadways, beginning hours before the start of play. 

'Ferris Bueller' cricket day off

Roughly a third of the stadium-style outdoor seating was filled when the match started at 10:30 a.m., with many fans sporting blue and gold in support of Sri Lanka and others decked out in green and gold for South Africa. A few waved flags from their native countries and roared with approval during the low-scoring affair. 

Broadcasters explained cricket's rules as the match continued, providing guidance to those not familiar with the game.

The T20 is the world's second most watched team sport competition, behind soccer's World Cup, but lacks a major television presence in the United States.

NewsdayTV's Jamie Stuart learns how to play cricket as Nassau County prepares to host the Men’s T20 World Cup at Eisenhower Park.  Credit: Anthony Florio

Nonetheless, the event had an Americanized feel, from Bruno Mars and the Backstreet Boys blasting on loudspeakers during breaks in the action, to the hot dogs and pretzels sold at concession stands.

“Overall, we had a great day,” said Brett Jones, chief executive of T20 USA in a statement. “The fans were enthusiastic. The players put on a show and the venue operated incredibly well.”

After traveling more than an hour from Westchester with his three children, Mike Wilmot arrived for the match around 9 a.m.

The family, decked out in South African cricket gear, was “banking school” to watch the match, he said, calling it a “ 'Ferris Bueller' cricket day off.”

Peter, 15, used to play cricket when the family lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has seen a professional match before. For his sisters — Jennifer, 12, and Robyn, 14 — the international match was a first.

Jennifer said she was excited to “experience it” in person while Robyn was anxious to “be in the community” of South African cricket fans.

Heavy police presence

The international event attracted one of Nassau's largest law enforcement contingents in recent memory.

Nassau Police shuttered access to the park and many major area roadways, beginning hours before the start of play. 

But despite a maze of road closures that seemed to flummox some motorists and bicyclists, residents appeared to take the inconveniences in stride.

“Everyone has the right to have a good time,” said Susan Hoffman of Roslyn, who was shopping at Stew Leonard’s just outside the park. “You gotta wait in traffic, you gotta wait in traffic.” 

Members of Nassau's Emergency Services, Aviation, Drone units, K-9, Mounted Patrol and SWAT were on site Monday, with officers inspecting cars, packages and visitors. 

Command center vehicles from county and state agencies were stationed along the exterior of the stadium while armed officers blocked access to park entrances. Ambulances and fire department vehicles were on standby.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said his administration had worked out some minor logistical issues, including the ease of getting fans into the stadium, following Saturday's exhibition match.

“The usual things: making sure fans can get in and out; that all the posts are manned. The normal things you would have when you're running such a large event,” Blakeman told reporters Monday. “They're minor in nature but we want things to go as close to perfect as possible.”

Most fans parked at the Nassau Coliseum lot and walked to the stadium, pushing strollers or carrying small coolers. Others parked more than a mile away on side streets and in shopping center lots.

“It’s giving me Quidditch World Cup vibes,” one pedestrian said to his friends as he stopped to tie his shoe, referring to the “Harry Potter” fictional sport.

A festive scene

For some, the match was truly a celebration.

Nick Glogau, 31, of Manhattan, arrived shortly before 10 a.m. with friends for a bachelor party. The crew of five said they planned to support Sri Lanka in honor of the groom, who is from the small South Asian island.

Coincidentally, Glogau said, their Uber driver was also Sri Lankan and, after he expressed excitement about the match, the group gifted him a ticket from a friend who couldn't attend.

“Literally, he dropped us off, flipped a U-ie, he’s like flying back to his home in Queens to shave and get his flag,” he said.

On the perimeter of the stadium, concession stands, food trucks and temporary merchandise stores, selling shirts and hats, all did brisk business. 

Customer traffic was lighter at concessions selling halal chicken tikka masala and vegetarian kebabs. Larger lines amassed for beer vendors and food trucks selling tacos, burgers and nachos. 

With a temperature in the comfortable low-to-mid 80s, hydration stations, where visitors could refill water bottles, sat largely unused.

The event had a festive atmosphere, with some small groups gathering to play drums or maracas.

The Great South Bay Amateur Radio Club even got in on the action, setting up a station to link the tournament to others around the globe.

Sabrina Achaibar, 13, of Queens, attending the match with her aunt, Cheryl Rengasami, said she missed a day of school to root for South Africa.

Achaibar, who is in eighth grade, carried a sign that read: “Cutting school for ICC.”

“Her idea, not mine,” Sabrina said, gesturing to her aunt. 

What was Achaibar looking forward to the most on the first day of the tournament?

“Seeing South Africa win,” she said.

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