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NYC fans count their blessings to be near Sachin

Shaun Pollock fires a short ball to Sachin Tendulkar. Muttiah Muralithran tosses one up to Ricky Ponting. Brian Lara, Glenn McGrath and Wasim Akram watch from the sidelines. Matthew Hayden waits his turn to bat. Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose share a laugh. Fans are chanting "Saaachin, Saaaachin." All this in a baseball stadium. In New York.

Fifteen years ago, this was schoolboy fantasy: teams full of dazzling cricketers taking each other on. Tendulkar and Lara batting against Shane Warne and Akram; the batsmen cautious one moment, bubbling the next, the bowlers tempting, teasing, vicious. Back in 2000, such battles would have been glorious.

Plenty of time has passed. Murali is still smiling, Hayden is still walking down the track to fast bowlers, Ponting is still pulverising pulls off the front foot and Tendulkar still has to be careful while he extends his arms in public lest he punches some rabid selfie-monger in the face. But the players are all retired, their bodies less toned, ample waistlines apparent.

Some of the best fielders of their time - and all time - are finding that their palms are sore after fielding drills. Run-ups have shortened. Nobody is diving. The raging intensity of the past has given way to a more avuncular outlook. Don't think this is a lark, they seem to be saying, but of course it's all going to be fun.

Thankfully for the players the stadium is on the smaller side. Warne has said it reminds him of Eden Park in Auckland. Area-wise it is probably smaller. A straight six from one end will be a catch in most grounds - even in this age of shortened boundaries - and a slashed edge will soar into the terraces at the other end. The baseball mound will pose challenges for long-off and fine leg. Infielders are likely to be as close to the batsmen as slips are on many grounds - which Tendulkar said, will give them "a chance to crack a joke or two".

One big concern before the series: the weather in November. The gods seem pleased: the chill (and snow) has mostly stayed away. The Saturday afternoon temperature at Citi Field is forecast to be 62F (16C).

There is talk of fans flying in, and driving, from various parts of the country for this match. The pitch has had a long journey too, on a truck from Indianapolis, around 700 miles away. The 57,000 pounds of turf arrived at 9:30 pm on Thursday. Four-and-a-half hours later, it was laid to rest in a ditch seven inches deep. The groundstaff, most of whom have never seen a cricket match before, finished with work at 2 am. For Ray McNeil, a 40-year-old New Yorker, it was "one of the most exciting things I have worked on".

This series was apparently conceived during the MCC versus Rest of the World match at Lord's last year during the MCC's bicentenary celebrations. Warne and Tendulkar thought it would be a great idea for frequent reunions. Tendulkar then dialled his friends around the world to ask if they would be interested in this venture. The common response he got: "What took you so long to call?"

For the organisers, the US was an obvious choice as a venue. The expatriate population has been starved of star cricketers for decades and there was a good chance that cities with a large south Asian population would embrace the idea: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their heroes in the flesh.

The pre-series hype has been delivered with missionary zeal. And like all hype, it needs a grain of salt. Tendulkar has said he picked up a bat again with the purpose of spreading cricket around the world. Warne intends to take the game to various parts of the globe thanks to the new form of the game - T20 - which he calls a marriage of baseball and rock 'n' roll. Singapore and Hong Kong are on his radar, Dubai too. Knowing Warne, he might want to take cricket to Antarctica. Or to the moon. And if Tendulkar joins him, hordes of spectators will follow anyway.

There may have been greater cricketers - though saying so may amount to blasphemy in some parts - but it is difficult to think of anyone in the game's history who has commanded this level of adoration. Put Tendulkar in the heart of Wall Street on a weekday morning - surrounded by suited bankers rushing to work, one hand clasping a coffee cup, another hand tap-tapping on their smart phones, weaving past bodies while stepping on boots and elbowing their fellow-walkers who are also doing the same - and you will still find 50 people dropping everything and rushing to him like iron filings seeking a magnet. And chanting "Saaachin, Saaaachin".

The scenes in Citi Field on Friday, when the cricketers conducted a clinic for 150 junior cricketers, told a story. Most of these boys, and some girls, were 15 or younger. Sure they were excited to be there - and to listen to these players hand out advice - but there was a palpable absence of awe and hero-worship. Not many appeared overwhelmed, not many were open-mouthed.

Those emotions were reserved for those in the stands - the parents - who would have given an arm and a leg to swap places with their kids. The moment Tendulkar finished with the clinic and walked towards the boundary, all hell broke loose. Middle-aged men and women - some executives in their day jobs, others technical whizzes, their hairlines receding, their brows furrowed - were clambering on railings to take a photo. Some pushed and shoved; some tried to take selfies from impossible angles. Through it all they kept shouting his name, as if the louder they uttered it the higher the chances of getting closer.

About five minutes into the chaos, one bespectacled lady, probably in her mid 30s, fed up of trying to jostle her way through the crowd, walked up a few rows in the stands, stood on a bucket chair, put her hands to her chest and - as if her whole life was flashing in front of her in that one instant - looked up to the sky and softly exclaimed, "Ashirwad mil gaya" (I've been blessed).

Blessings received, she packed her handbag and prepared to make her way out.