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The day Shecket, ‘America’s only cricket fan’, won

It was only last year, after January 23, 2013, that cricket became a constant companion.

If you were to ask me the outcome of the second international in Cardiff, I would give a slightly non-traditional answer. The scoreboard will tell you that India beat England by 133 runs on D/L method. But my take on the game is that Jon Shecket and cricket won on Wednesday. As a tag team. And they won almost as soon as the first ball was bowled.

Cricket you know, of course. But Jon Shecket who?

Well, Shecket is someone who hadn’t heard of cricket till he was 15, but in whose life (in the most crucial moments) the game ended up playing a monumental role. The sport was by his hospital bedside when he fought Acute Myeloid Leukemia a decade-and-a-half later.

I met Shecket a day before the Cardiff one-dayer. It was as a chance meeting. Having arrived at the capital of Wales on Tuesday, I took a bus to my accommodation. There he was, wearing a baseball cap, with his 31-year-old large frame practically occupying one-and-a-half seats in the front row. He was grumbling rather noisily about the weather in Bristol in a gruff, discernable American accent to other soft-spoken Brits. I spotted a BBC Sport lanyard around his neck, put two and two together, and asked, “Are you here for the cricket?”

“Yes,” he replied. I had suspected he was one of the production crew members for the broadcaster and asked him as much, but he answered in the negative and announced: “I am perhaps cricket’s only American fan.”

Despite the hyperbole — which is not a hyperbole by much if you really think of it — my curiosity was heightened. I got up from my seat and planted myself next to him. On that remaining half-a-seat. He was more than willing to talk. As it turned out we were heading to the same block, same street, and actually the same house.

He started narrating his story. “It all started when I was 15. I was always a soccer fan, and a Columbus Crew supporter. Around that time I was getting interested in English soccer and was listening to reports on BBC. It was there that I heard about some kind of England Test match where they were doing really poorly.”

It stroked his curiosity. For reference, he went to the local library and picked up a book ‘What is a Googly?’ by Rob Eastaway. The same book (also sold in America under the title ‘Cricket Explained’) is said to have been gifted by the former British Premier John Major to the former American President George Bush. If Bush Sr got anything out of it, it’s not known, but young Shecket surely got sufficiently interested in the sport. Then Cricinfo did the rest.

In 2001, Shecket got a chance to come to London for an internship stint with the Daily Star and watched county cricket. But it was only last year, after January 23, 2013, that cricket became a constant companion. That day Shecket was diagnosed with AML Leukemia. “I was immediately made inpatient in the hospital for about a month.” A long and arduous journey had begun.

He opted for a series of consolidation chemotherapy rounds over a stem cell transplant. Four rounds of chemo, each lasting about a week, about one month apart from each other.

“These were each about five days, not unlike a Test match,” he said. “It was during that, I think, that I decided to begin my pay-per-view cricket subscription just before the England-NZ series. It included IPL matches too. In the hospital I watched on my laptop connected to my TV at home via Slingbox. At home I got it through my big screen.

“IPL games usually came on at about 10 am Eastern time, which was perfect because American TV is boring that time of day. I picked up Mumbai Indians as my favorite team because my baseball team is the Cleveland Indians.”

The IPL, to Shecket, felt like he was watching a cricketing game show. “The way it was presented with all the pieces integrated like the toss and the sponsored chanting and the American cheerleaders. T20 cricket is like a whole other kind of game but at the end of the day it is still about batting better and bowling better.”

Cricket was therapeutic. Especially the Ashes Test at Trent Bridge. “I watched four of the five days from the hospital and the last one at home. That match had everything. (Ashton) Agar’s stand for the Aussies, (Stuart) Broad refusing to walk, etc. My favorite moment was when Bumble (David Lloyd) read my tweet on the air.

Discharged at stumps

“That fourth day was the day of my discharge and I actually stuck around the hospital an extra hour or so to wait until stumps. So many nurses, nurses’ aides, doctors, cleaning staff, etc got their first ever exposure to cricket in my room,” Shecket said. Later, among other things, he also watched Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement. He actually stayed up all night for that.

Life, though, was far from on track for Shecket. In January this year, the man relapsed. And in March, he underwent a stem cell transplant. But what did he do post-transplant? He decided to make a cricketing and footballing pilgrimage to the UK and bought tickets for the first two ODIs — his first ever international cricket experience. The Bristol one was abandoned, the forecast for Cardiff wasn’t good either. Which was when I ran into him. Because of work, I didn’t get to see him again despite living in the same house. But I thought of him when the match finally happened. And he was kind enough to mail me his experience.

“It was fantastic! India put on a great show,” he wrote in his email. “Several observations: England leaving out Moeen Ali still baffles me. Chris Jordan

was awful. Ravi Ashwin reminds me of an ostrich. Ian Bell not taking proper guard was completely bizarre. I suspect he is distantly related to the ice hockey goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury. Raina will always be one of my favorite players from now on, and I hope Alex Hales has a long, successful England career so I can say I saw him early.

“There is a historic quote from baseball manager Casey Stengel that I think of whenever I see teams skittled out cheaply in 50-over games or tests: “Can’t anybody play this game?”

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