Bowling For A Comeback: Cricket Makes Its Bid For The Big Time Before baseball became the national pastime, cricket used to be America's favorite sport. One ambitious executive thinks it will be again. He's backing a multicity, all-star tour to make it happen.
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Bowling For A Comeback: Cricket Makes Its Bid For The Big Time

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Bowling For A Comeback: Cricket Makes Its Bid For The Big Time

Bowling For A Comeback: Cricket Makes Its Bid For The Big Time

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Cricket is a mystery to many Americans, but it's getting a turn in the spotlight this week. The Cricket All-Stars, two dream teams of retired greats, are battling it out in a three-game tournament spread across the U.S. NPR's Vanessa Rancano visited one of the country's oldest cricket clubs to find out more about the Americans who love this game.

VANESSA RANCANO, BYLINE: Twenty-two men in white pants and white cable-knit sweaters take their places on a pristine grass field at The Philadelphia Cricket Club.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: All right, let's go PCC.

RANCANO: They come from all over.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I was born in Tobago.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Guyana, South America.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I am from India.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Scotland.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: We've got an Aussie, Zimbabwean, South African. What else do you want? I mean, it's a whole mix-match we got here.

RANCANO: Most of the men on these Philadelphia-area teams grew up playing in countries where cricket is serious business. Here, there's not exactly an abundance of experienced players around. So when they find them, they scoop them up. Here's how David Anstice got recruited by a teammate.

DAVID ANSTICE: I said, how do you know I can even play? He said, you're Australian, aren't you?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: (Laughter).

ANSTICE: And then I said, well, how do you know I'm any good? He said, if you've only got one eye, you'll work on our team. (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: (Laughter).

(APPLAUSE, CHEERING)

RANCANO: Cricket is a little like baseball. There's a bat and a ball, and the team that scores the most runs wins. But the similarities end there. Traditional cricket matches can be epic, lasting five days. Here, they play a shorter version. Games are over in about four hours.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: He's out.

RANCANO: Tom Culp helps organize an international cricket festival in Philadelphia every year.

TOM CULP: There are about 25,000 cricket players in the United States, largely on the two coasts with pockets in Colorado, Texas of all places.

RANCANO: Texas was one of three states to host the Cricket All-Stars. New York also hosted. And this weekend, they'll play at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The matches feature two of the sport's biggest stars - Shane, The King of Spin, Warne of Australia - he's a bowler, kind of like a pitcher - and India's Sachin, Master Blaster, Tendulkar, the sport's most famous batter.

SAMAR JHA: I have to watch Sachin. I mean, I've been following his games since childhood.

RANCANO: Philadelphia cricket player Samar Jha has box seats.

JHA: If you go to India and you say Sachin Tendulkar, then he's God. He's next to God.

RANCANO: The event's organizers hope this tour makes cricket converts out of nonbelievers in the U.S. Hard to tell with the crowd so far. In New York, the match drew 30,000 fans, in Houston, about 25,000. Philadelphia player Andy Bhattacharya doesn't think the All-Star matches are likely to win skeptics over. But he's holding out hope for the short format games popular today, the kind the All-Stars are playing now.

ANDY BHATTACHARYA: A lot of cricket matches get to the last pitch. Like, you get goose bumps. You're like just - your hair's standing up. You're wondering, like, what is going to happen. And if ever the American public gets a taste of that, that will be the day that this sport will arrive in this country.

RANCANO: For these cricketers, that can't happen soon enough. Vanessa Rancano, NPR News.

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