When India visit just about any venue these days, the stands predictably turn into a sea of blue. But in South Florida on Saturday, it was tinged with shades of red and white too.
Some of the more creative fans supporting India at this West Indies home affair on neutral soil paid homage to their dual heritage at the Central Broward Regional Park by sewing the Indian flag back-to-back with the stars and stripes of the USA. It was a highlight of the bond forged by the growing Indian diaspora not just in Florida but from all around the country who have driven long distances or flown in for this affair.
Among those symbolizing this new wave of fans is Nisarg Chokshi. Growing up in Baroda, Chokshi was coached in Kiran More's academy and played alongside Krunal Pandya at age-level cricket in Gujarat. But the family desire for better opportunities meant Chokshi moved to New Jersey as a 15-year-old in 2006. He stuck with cricket, and went on to captain the runner-up team in the national U-19 championship 2009, where he led future USA national team captain Muhammad Ghous.
He couldn't get picked for USA U-19 at the time because he was not eligible on the ICC residency, which required four years of residency at the time. He had only been in the country for three years, which is enough time these days. Chokshi now works as an engineer for the State of New Jersey.
Chokshi has played at the Central Broward Regional Park on many occasions in various domestic tournaments in the USA, largely to cavernous echoes in the outfield where every conversation can be heard among the players in the middle because the crowds are non-existent. You can imagine his excitement when he flew down to sit in a fifth-row seat in the east grandstand to watch his childhood friend Krunal in front of a jam-packed crowd of 13,000.
"I was just thinking this morning - this is the same pitch where I have batted, the same ground where I have played my cricket for years where Virat Kohli is going to be batting today, where the legends are going to be playing," Chokshi said. "It's just unbelievable, it's just a dream come true to see that the same exact pitch where you have scored is where the international cricketers are right now. My childhood friend, we used to be in the same academy so I'm supporting him all the way from India as well."
But this weekend is not just about Chokshi reuniting with Krunal. It's a chance for his parents and wife Apeksha residing in New Jersey to reconnect with his sister Risham and her husband Shailin, who flew 3,300 miles from Seattle. It's also the very first match for the next generation of the Chokshi clan, Nisarg and Apeksha's six-month old Aaryav.
"We also want him to make sure cricket comes first before any sport for us because his dad always played cricket," Apeksha said. "I would love to see my son playing for USA."
While there has plenty of discussion about the struggles of American administrators to reach out and connect with people beyond the South Asian and West Indian diaspora to get involved in the game, it has been no less difficult to keep both sets of core ethnic groups engaged to serve as a foundational building block to expand from. But Chokshi and his young first-generation Indian-American family show there is hope that may be changing.
After getting a taste of the action between India and West Indies on Saturday, Chokshi was excited to learn about the impending debut of ODIs on American soil between USA and Papua New Guinea next month. Though the crowds in Lauderhill to watch USA will most likely be a fraction of what is on display for the T20Is between India and West Indies, the naturalized American-citizen Chokshi said he wouldn't hesitate to come back to support USA.
"I would fly down to support my country," Chokshi said. "This is my first T20I that I'm watching in the United States. I'm probably gonna come more and more. The stadium is fantastic. This brings cricket in the limelight in the United States and it's a great boost for the country as well. This is the best sport in the world. It's history-making. This is just the beginning. USA will go big."