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The U.S. is hosting the Cricket World Cup, spurring increased interest in the sport

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To cricket news now - the sport, not the insect. The U.S. is gearing up for a big match tomorrow in the Cricket T20 World Cup. The tournament and the team have been unexpected sensations here in the U.S., where cricket is not anywhere near as big as it is in the rest of the world. NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan is here. Hi, Becky.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: OK, so the big match tomorrow - if the U.S. wins, they will advance to the next stage of the tournament, which we really would not have expected when all this was getting underway.

SULLIVAN: No, totally. It's been absolutely wonderful to watch. This is definitely just like a Cinderella story for the U.S. National Team. Just to give you a sense, before this tournament started, they were ranked No. 17 among national teams in the whole world. And then in this initial group stage, they were matched up with No. 1. They were matched up with No. 1, India, No. 7, Pakistan, No. 11, Ireland, and then Canada as well, who was ranked below the U.S. But out of that group of five, only two teams could advance. So this was pretty bad odds for the U.S. But here they are on the precipice of advancing. It's just been great fun.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, and they beat Pakistan - right...

SULLIVAN: Yes.

KELLY: ...And...

SULLIVAN: Exactly.

KELLY: ...Then went toe to toe with India.

SULLIVAN: Yep, exactly. And so it's been fun to watch because the U.S. is full of players who are born and raised in places like India, South Africa, Pakistan and New Zealand, who have all moved to the U.S., made their home here. The team captain, Aaron Jones, was born in Queens to immigrants from Barbados. So these are all, like, you know, cricket powerhouses in places where it's traditionally more popular. And so, you know, for the U.S. team, there's been lots of love for the team online, in the stands. And the match tomorrow, I think, should be great fun, too.

KELLY: It's so fun. Is this what the organizers were going for when they chose the U.S. to host these matches?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, definitely - I mean, not the team's success specifically but the groundswell of interest around it here in the States absolutely. I mean, so cricket is the second most popular sport worldwide after only soccer - huge in South Asia, obviously, but also Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, some places in Africa, the Middle East. And it just doesn't have that foothold here. And so, you know, when it came to this tournament, the U.S. is only a co-host. The final games that are going to be held in the U.S. will be tomorrow and this weekend. And then the later rounds will all take place in the West Indies and in Guyana.

KELLY: Got it. OK. So beyond the U.S. games, what else has come out of this tournament so far that's been notable?

SULLIVAN: One of the notable things besides the cricket in this tournament has been this temporary stadium that they built on Long Island just for this event. That's where you saw many of these scenes of, like, 30,000 people who came out to see India and Pakistan play. And the funny thing about this stadium is that there was trouble with the grass. And so, you know, as is common with sports fields, they grew the grass elsewhere, and they moved it to New York before the first games. But it just didn't quite take the way the groundskeepers were hoping it would. And so the ball has been sort of bouncing and rolling strangely and unpredictably, which has been hard for batters, and that has kept scoring lower. But it also made it so that the matches there have been very close and exciting. And so here's what USA cricket coach Stuart Law had to say about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STUART LAW: What it has provided is a very good contest between bat and ball and some very exciting cricket. You know, the games that we've watched at this stadium so far - they've all been very tight. They've all been very good to watch. And, you know, that also will, you know, intrigue some of the minds here in America.

KELLY: All right. Just give us quickly before we let you go what we should watch for for the U.S. team next.

SULLIVAN: So they play Ireland tomorrow. The team - the U.S. team is in control of its own destiny. So a win sends them through to the next round. A loss makes it a little trickier - lots of rain expected in South Florida tomorrow, however. And so there's a match - chance the match could be canceled. If that happens, the U.S. will advance, and there will be more games to play next week.

KELLY: Yay. All right - can't wait to watch them all. NPR's Becky Sullivan. Thank you.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAC MILLER SONG, "DANG!") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.