Houston, we have a new galaxy of stars

More than anything else, the All-Star Series has given several fans a chance to watch their first cricket match in a stadium and share an experience they are unlikely to ever forget

Forty-four year old Dan Bergstrom, the head groundskeeper of the Houston Astros, admits he is slightly nervous. He has never seen a cricket match before and never thought he would see one "until a few months ago". Ever since the All-Stars Series was announced, the bespectacled Bergstrom has been "studying, catching up with videos online", to gear up for the second game of the three-match series on Wednesday.
Bergstrom is relieved that Houston's Minute Maid Park is equipped with a roof, especially on days like Wednesday when the forecast is cloudy with a chance of rain. He understands that the pitch is the "core of the game" and also knows that, unlike in baseball where most home teams want the ball to slow down once it bounces, cricket crowds like to see the ball race to the fence. For five hours on Sunday, while laying the drop-in pitch that had traveled in a truck from New York, Bergstrom and his crew tried to grasp the nuances of pitch science. They quickly figured that it would take them a lot more time to "even get started" on how to prepare a surface.
Standing next to Bergstrom is Isiah John, a 65-year-old security officer, who is yet to see a cricket match. "I spent a lot of time in England in the '80s and '90s," he says, "But there I watched only soccer, no cricket. Now I am trying to understand all about these fours and sixes and wickets. And it's great to see how passionate these cricket fans are. It's not so crazy during baseball."
While the majority of the spectators attending the All-Stars Series have watched cricket in a stadium before, there is also a set of first-timers who are getting a first taste of a live match. These include ground staff, security officers, ushers, volunteers, cameramen and - most of all - kids, many of whom have only watched cricket on TV and online (both live and recorded).
The cricket stars have conducted clinics for junior cricketers in New York and Houston. The hurried nature of these sessions, and lack of extended interactivity, has meant that some of the kids (and parents) have felt short-changed by the experience. But it has also offered a chance for many young boys and girls to get a feel of a big stadium for the first time, and get close to some legends. Many kids have showed off their autographed bats and a couple boys in Houston said they were planning to "keep it safely, near their beds". Others have got a chance to ask some of the star cricketers a question or two. And all have been granted tickets to attend the game with their parents.
For 13-old Sri Pare, who plays youth cricket in Austin, Texas, the word that came to his mind when he entered Minute Maid Park on Tuesday was "ginormous". Sri had never been in a stadium before, so "just walking in and seeing all these players like Sachin, it was something else."
Sri's father Ravi relocated from Hyderabad to the USA 14 years ago. "Sri's interests are mostly similar to the other American kids in his class," says Ravi. "He started playing cricket only three months ago. He is mostly obsessed with basketball, and LeBron James. But he watches cricket on TV. So I told him and his brother Pranav to play the game."
Nine-year-old Jude Nesom, a student at the British International School of Houston, is finding it hard to believe he has just met Shane Warne. "He is there, there!" he says, pointing to Warne warming up. Jude's friend Charlie lifts his shirt to show off his vest autographed by Warne.
Saad Humayun, a 15-year-old left-arm spinner who lives in Austin, Texas, is looking forward to seeing Daniel Vettori and Graeme Swann at the game. "I went to England a few years ago and was blown away by the cricket there," he says. "I want to play cricket for England or Australia one day - the Ashes is so amazing to watch on TV."
Many of these junior cricketers may not have seen Tendulkar, Warne and a host of other players in their prime. Sometimes it is apparent that they are slightly amused by their parents' feverish excitement. But, more than anything else, this series has given them a chance to watch their first cricket match in a stadium. And, as any sports fan will agree, it is an experience that they are unlikely to ever forget.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a writer based in the USA