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April 6th, 2011 EVAN SERNOFFSKY | Sports
 

All-Night Cricket Party

While most of us slept, Portland cricket fans celebrated one of the world’s biggest sporting events.

news6_swagat_3722CUP OF GLEE: Fans of India’s cricket team sweat out their country’s World Cup match. - IMAGE: Evan Sernoffsky
At 2:30 am, most late-night establishments release the drunks and lock the doors. But on Saturday, April 2, last call was when the party really started for one Portland business.

Swagat, an Indian restaurant on Northwest 21st Avenue and Lovejoy Street, hosted a viewing party of the 2011 Cricket World Cup final in Mumbai between India and Sri Lanka. 

About 20 fans of India drummed loudly on the tables as Sri Lanka took the field to bat, tensely watching India’s bowler hurl the first ball of the game. For the next eight hours, the fans stayed glued to the TV. The place erupted with everybody exchanging high-fives when, in an act worthy of ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10, a fielder for India made a diving bare-handed catch.

“I have watched almost all of the matches in this World Cup,” said Raiyo Aspandiar, an engineer at Intel in Hillsboro. “I set my body clock so that I can get up and stay awake. They say there are two religions in India—cricket and Bollywood.”

Because the match was 13 time zones away, most expats from cricket-playing nations stream the games online or watch with their families. Although the turnout at Swagat was modest, the quadrennial Cricket World Cup final is one of the most-watched sporting events in the world. Cricket is hugely popular among India’s 1.2 billion people, and similarly so among the 10,000 Indians estimated by the India Cultural Association of Portland to live in this area. 

As TV cameras swept among the 45,000 spectators at Mumbai’s sold-out Wankhede Stadium, viewers at Swagat pointed and nodded at the who’s who of India, such as Aamir Khan, star of the hugely popular film Lagaan. 

The final was preceded last week by a semifinal match between India and Pakistan that captivated most of South Asia. In a historic act of diplomacy between rival nuclear powers, the prime ministers of both nations sat together at the stadium in Mohali, India, to watch their nations compete.

  According to the Associated Press, schools and businesses closed early in Pakistan and India on March 30 in what became a pseudo-national holiday. After India secured its place in the final, throngs of people celebrated in the streets by jumping on cars and lighting fireworks.

“That was what we call a high-voltage match,” said Tony Tariq, a Pakistani man who works at a restaurant in downtown Portland. “Now we are all hoping for Sri Lanka to win.”

The crowd at Swagat didn’t share that sentiment. The gathering was all Indian save for Krist Homsi, a native-born American who works in sports science for a division of Nike and plays in the Oregon Cricket League with Aspandiar. After 10 years, Homsi is still learning the mechanics of the game.

“It is theater that plays out,” Homsi said. “Cricket requires a time and effort that is not part of spoon-fed American sporting culture. It is a game from another time.”

Unlike with most American sports, beer is not generally guzzled while watching cricket—chai tea is the drink of choice. It is considered a gentleman’s game in which each match pauses twice—once for lunch, once for tea. Some spectators at Swagat refilled their cups of chai five or six times throughout the night. 

“It’s not like crack open a six-pack and watch the game,” said Miten Bhatia, a US Bank branch manager who moved to the United States from Mumbai in 1998. “A lot of families watch cricket. I remember watching it with my grandmother.” 

At one point in the night Swagat owner Srimanth Chinnam went into the kitchen and  returned with platters of samosas. The crowd at Swagat graciously devoured plate after plate.

As the eight-hour game came to a close Saturday morning with favorite India battling back to win its second World Cup title, the exhausted crowd filed out of Swagat into the bright morning, celebrating its first World Cup win since 1983.

“It is a very exhilarating feeling,” Aspandiar said. “The last time India won the World Cup I was here in the United States and there was no way to watch it. This time I got to see India win.”  

 
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