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The U.S. Advances in the Cricket World Cup

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All the heavy rain this week in South Florida had an unexpected side effect today. The U.S. national cricket team, a total Cinderella in the ongoing T20 World Cup, has now advanced to the next round of the tournament. And that is thanks to a rain-out of today's match, which had been set to take place in Broward County. NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan joins me. Hi again, Becky.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: Hey.

SULLIVAN: It's more like cricket correspondent these days, it seems like.

KELLY: Well, that's the thing. We keep talking to you. Last time we talked, you were so excited 'cause the U.S. was going to play Ireland today.

SULLIVAN: I know.

KELLY: What happened?

SULLIVAN: Well, so this game was supposed to start at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time. And at that time, at the - like, at the stadium in Florida, where this was supposed to take place, it wasn't even raining. The sun was out. However, there had just been so much rain over these past few days in Florida that the field, as you guys were saying earlier, was totally saturated. And cricket is a sport that is very sensitive to field conditions. When it's too wet, the ball - it just bounces, and it rolls differently. The bowlers - you know, often, the ball is bouncing before it reaches the batter. Fielders don't wear gloves like they do in baseball, and it's very hard to handle the ball. And so particularly wet conditions are no good.

So ground crews were, like, periodically walking before the game, which was delayed repeatedly before they finally canceled it. But by the afternoon, the thunder and lightning and rain had all started up again, and so they just decided to call it off. And essentially what happened is that the U.S. was credited with half a win. That was all they needed. Now they are through to the second stage.

KELLY: Which was another thing you could not have possibly written before this thing all got underway.

SULLIVAN: No.

KELLY: The U.S. was a total underdog.

SULLIVAN: No, of course, exactly. You're totally right. The U.S. is not a powerhouse in cricket at all. In fact, this is the first time we are participating in this T20 World Cup. This is a tournament that is stacked with teams that are powerhouses that are full of full-time professionals. These players play cricket for a living.

By contrast, take our star player. His name is Saurabh Netravalkar. He, you know, impressed the world with his heroics in the U.S. upset win over Pakistan and in the very close loss the other day to India. Full-time job that is not cricket player - he is a software engineer. He was born in India. There, he was an aspiring cricketer. He played for the youth national team, but his professional career didn't pan out. And so he - seemingly so. And so he came to the U.S. nine years ago to attend grad school at Cornell. He is now an engineer at the tech company Oracle. I talked to him yesterday, actually, and he basically said that he, of course, was stoked for the team and for its success. But he was also so excited because their success bodes well for the future of cricket here in the States, he hopes.

SAURABH NETRAVALKAR: Many people who weren't originally that interested in cricket are trying to learn about the game, showing up to the games. So definitely a seed has been planted for the growth of the sport. So that's a win for us.

KELLY: Such a story. OK. So what's next for the U.S.? This is another group stage.

SULLIVAN: Exactly. So the next round is another group stage, as you're saying. So these - the U.S. is now among the final eight teams remaining. They have been split into two groups. In the group with the U.S. is South Africa and the West Indies and a team that is still yet to be determined. And so the U.S. will play each of those three teams for a total of three games, the first of which is Wednesday. And then the top two teams from each of these two groups will go on to a spot in the semifinals. So...

KELLY: Got it.

SULLIVAN: For the U.S., that's a long shot. It was also a long shot to get here. So we'll see what happens.

KELLY: NPR's cricket correspondent Becky Sullivan. Thanks so much.

SULLIVAN: Of course, Mary Louise.

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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.