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Here's what to know about the U.S. team's Cinderella run at the Cricket T20 World Cup

Saurabh Netravalkar, right, has become the breakout star of the U.S. national cricket team due to heroics like his dismissal of Indian superstar cricketer Virat Kohli, center, during Wednesday's match between the U.S. and India at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York.
Adam Hunger
Saurabh Netravalkar, right, has become the breakout star of the U.S. national cricket team due to heroics like his dismissal of Indian superstar cricketer Virat Kohli, center, during Wednesday's match between the U.S. and India at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York.

Before this month, the U.S. national cricket team had never before played in a T20 World Cup, one of the world's most-watched sporting events.

Now, the U.S. is a bona fide Cinderella and, with a rainout of its Friday match, has advanced to stand alongside the world's finest teams in the tournament's second round.

Though cricket is the second-most popular sport worldwide, it has long struggled to gain a foothold in the U.S. Building that interest was one of the organizers' goals in selecting the U.S. as a co-host of this year's T20 World Cup, the premiere international tournament of cricket's most accessible and fastest-paced format.

Now, after a stunning upset of Pakistan and a close loss to India in which the U.S went toe-to-toe with some of the greatest cricketers in the world, the national team — along with its breakout star Saurabh Netravalkar — has captured the attention of cricket diehards and newcomers alike.

"A seed has been planted for the sport in the country," Netravalkar, a bowler and the breakout star of the team, told NPR.

With its Friday match versus Ireland cancelled due to rain in south Florida, the U.S. has advanced to the next round of the tournament to play at least three more games. Buckle up.

Tell me about some of the players on the team

The U.S. team has many players who were born overseas and have since moved to the U.S. to make their homes here. Among the nationalities: India, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand. The team's coach, Stuart Law, is from Australia, and its captain, Aaron Jones, was born in Queens to immigrants from Barbados.

The team's breakout star has been Netravalkar, whose bowling in the super over (basically overtime) of the match against Pakistan, helped seal the victory for the U.S. His heroics continued against India, even as the U.S. fell short.

Unlike his opponents in those matches, who are professional players, Netravalkar has a day job: He works as a software engineer.

Netravalkar was born and raised in India, where he was a promising cricket prospect and played for India's under-19 national team. But in 2015, he decided to pursue software engineering and moved to the U.S. for graduate school. Now, with a full-time job, he trains during the evenings and weekends, and his employer, the tech company Oracle, allows him to take leave to pursue his cricket career, he said.

"Instead of one being my full-time job and the other being a passion, I still love doing my job as well," he said. "As long as I'm able to do what I love, to do both, that's the goal for me."

Tell me about a highlight that I can talk about with my friends

The scene: Wednesday, India v. USA. The U.S. batted first and scored 110 runs — modest, respectable, maybe enough to win.

Then it was India's turn to bat, and the heavyweight sent out two of its best players to start, team captain Rohit Sharma and megastar Virat Kohli, perhaps the most famous cricketer in the world, whose 269 million Instagram followers are more than any athlete not named Messi or Ronaldo.

"I was trying to look at it as just any other player that I'm bowling to," Netravalkar said. "I was trying to keep the names out of it and to just follow the process."

In doing so, he stunned India and thrilled the crowd of 30,000 by dismissing Kohli on his first ball, before the star had a chance to score a single run — a feat in cricket called a "golden duck." Soon after came Netravalkar's dismissal of Sharma, out on a popped-up ball after scoring only three runs.

"They are two of arguably the best batters in the world. It does feel good," Netravalkar said, adding that his mom had traveled from India to see the match. "It was a special day for me."

Many fans at the U.S.-India match cheered for both teams.
Adam Hunger / AP
Many fans at the U.S.-India match cheered for both teams.

Have people in the U.S. been watching?

It's been a hit. Tens of thousands have turned out to see the matches held in Texas, New York and Florida. Tickets to see India play Pakistan sold for nearly $1,000 or more apiece on the secondary market.

"[The] U.S.A. is such a diverse country. There's a lot of people who migrated from different parts of the world — and with the people, the sport also should travel," said Anand Haury, another fan at Wednesday's match, speaking to member station WSHU.

At the U.S.-India match Wednesday on Long Island, the crowd cheered for both teams. Many in the stands wore a blue India jersey while holding an American flag.

"I grew up in India, then I came to the U.S.A. ten years ago. And the U.S.A. gave me everything, so I'm supporting both countries," said Rutz Pat, who came from Pennsylvania to see the match.

And the response online has been tremendous, with coverage in mainstream media and viral posts on social media.

I admit I don't know how to watch cricket. How does it work?

Lucky for you, NPR's producer in Mumbai is here to help. Take a listen to this Morning Edition segment and you'll be ready to watch Friday's match.

Okay, tell me again about what's next for the U.S. now that they've moved on.

In effect, the cancellation of Friday's match versus Ireland resulted in a half of a win for the U.S., which was all the team needed to advance.

Now, the U.S. is one of only eight teams remaining, alongside top tier squads such as India, Australia and the West Indies. In this round, called the Super 8s, there are two groups of four teams. Within the groups, each team will play each other once, then the top two teams in from each will advance to the semifinals.

The U.S. is set to play South Africa in its first Super 8 match on Wednesday, followed by a match against the West Indies on Friday. Its final opponent, for a match Sunday, has yet to be determined.

The advancement also won the U.S. a guaranteed spot in the next T20 World Cup, which will take place in 2026.

Additional reporting by WSHU's Eda Unzular in Nassau County, N.Y.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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.