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Team USA beats Pakistan in Cricket World Cup

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

And now, it's time for cricket. While it's not often we get to the world's second most popular sport, there was just huge news today. Team USA just pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history. They beat Pakistan in super over - the baseball equivalent of extra innings - in group play in this year's World Cup. And just to put this into an American sports context, Pakistan losing to the U.S. is like the Boston Red Sox losing to the Durham Bulls. And Pakistan's fans, like, took it really hard. Joining us here in studio to discuss this big moment is NPR's Ammad Omar. Hi, there.

AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Hey, how's it going?

SUMMERS: It is going good. OK, help me out here. Just how big of a deal is this Pakistan loss?

OMAR: This is a very big deal. Pakistan has a population of about 235 million people, and it's really the only sport that anyone there cares about. The players there are the biggest celebrities in the country. They're bigger than movie stars, musicians, politicians.

Now, one of the U.S.'s star players in this game, Saurabh Netravalkar - he's one of the top engineers at Oracle, the tech company in California - clearly a very talented guy, but maybe just a slightly different profile. Just for a bit of context, when Pakistan plays India in a tournament like this, it gets something like five to 10 times more viewers than the Super Bowl.

SUMMERS: Wow.

OMAR: So yeah, that tells you how big and popular this game is in other parts of the world. Pakistan made the finals of the World Cup in this format the last time around. They're one of the top countries that play this game in the world. The U.S. - this is just their second match in a World Cup, so they're just not a big player on the international stage.

But I don't want to lose sight of the fact that the USA winning is a huge deal here, too. They've gone through years and years of dysfunction as far as the administrators go. The World Cup is being held in the U.S. and some Caribbean countries really just to get the sport a foothold in this country, and the focus has been on whether the stadiums are up to international standards or if anyone even knew this was happening in the U.S. And now, hopefully, the focus will be on the team and their performances.

SUMMERS: OK, I've got a lot of questions here, the first one being, how exactly did the U.S. pull this off?

OMAR: I mean, simply put, they just played better. They were the better team. This was not a fluke today. Right out of the gate, the USA got three of Pakistan's best players out with some really good pitching - or bowling, as they call it - some excellent fielding. They dominated this game from the very beginning. And the fact that it even went to that super over, as they call it - or extra innings, as it were - that was kind of a surprise.

And then when it went to that super over, you thought, OK, maybe this is - the opportunity has slipped away. But then they dominated again, and, you know, it was a one-sided situation there. And they were the better team. There's no complaints that can be had.

SUMMERS: OK. Around 2.5 billion people around the world follow cricket, but I think it's fair to say that most Americans, including this host, do not know a whole lot about this sport. Do we have any sense if this win could be a turning point?

OMAR: I mean, I think that's got to be the hope for the administrators of cricket, not only in the U.S. but around the world. This is kind of one of the last bastions that they're trying to capture as far as markets go. You know, this afternoon, after the match ended, this USA cricket match was the No. 1 trend on Twitter - or X, as it were - in the USA. So maybe, just maybe, people are paying attention here now.

You know, this sport is definitely popular when it comes to expats and people from other countries. A little anecdote for you - the starting 11 for the USA today - seven of the players were born in other countries, just four in the U.S. The other seven were born in India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa.

But hopefully, now that this event happened, more people might be paying attention to the game, and I think the hope is that it will grow the game. And the way the USA played today - I think they'll definitely gain some fans of people that were watching because they played really well.

SUMMERS: Yeah. You've certainly got me hooked. All right, last thing here - what comes next for Team USA?

OMAR: Well, in this tournament, they'll play India up next, and they're the real big powerhouse - the pre-tournament favorites. That match is next week on Wednesday, and then they play Ireland after that. And if they finish in the top two in their group, they'll move on to the next round of the tournament.

They're looking like they're in really good shape to do that. They've already beaten Canada earlier this week. So if they win probably one of the next two games, they should have a really good chance of making it to the next round. That's in the short-term. And I think the real question that people are going to be looking at is, long-term, what comes next for the USA - not only as a team, but as a kind of sport in this country. And, again, I think the hope is that this will be a launchpad for the game and the team here.

SUMMERS: All right, Ammad, thanks for giving me another sport to follow.

OMAR: Oh, yep.

SUMMERS: That is NPR's Ammad Omar.

(SOUNDBITE OF TERRACE MARTIN SONG, "THIS MORNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ammad Omar
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