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Morrisville going crazy for cricket ahead of national tournament

One of the world's most popular, fastest-growing sports will be on display at inaugural Toyota Minor League Cricket Championship will be in Morrisville the weekend of Oct. 2-3.

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Ryan Bisesi
, WRAL multiplatform producer
MORRISVILLE, N.C. — The Triangle is an athletics-crazy area, but a lot of folks may not know about a big event coming in October. One of the world’s most popular, fastest-growing sports will be on display at inaugural Toyota Minor League Cricket Championship will be in Morrisville the weekend of Oct. 2-3.

It is one of American cricket’s most prominent events, with the largest prize in American cricket’s history on the line, and the local team is among the competitors. 

Church Street Park was designed with a set of baseball fields. The town decided to convert the property into a multi-purpose field big enough for cricket. Not only can the park host cricket events, former Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman said it’s considered one of the best facilities around. Morrisville Cardinals co-owner Sai Nidamarthy echoed that sentiment, adding that the grounds in Morrisville feature one of the best playing surfaces in the country.

The Cardinals reached the playoffs and face the New Jersey Stallions in the conference semifinals this weekend. Minor League Cricket encompasses 21 cities, 27 teams, more than 200 matches and 400-plus players.

The park hosted its first international tournament in 2018.

Cardinals co-owner Praveen Chakaraj is from India. He moved to the U.S. in 1997 and North Carolina in 2000. He’s watched the game grow in the area since then and is psyched to be part of a professional team in Morrisville. Chakaraj said a centralized location makes the park one of the more sought-after sites in the league.

“I did not even dream about it back then,” Chakaraj said while looking out over the field at the park. “I’m very honored to get this franchise.”

First things first: What is cricket?

Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of 11 players on a field at the center of which is a 22-yard pitch with a wicket at each end, each comprising two bails balanced on three stumps. The "wicket" is one of the central parts of the field and usually referred to as the area between the two sets of stumps.

There’s a host of terms to know, including striker (the batsman), bowler (The player who bowls the ball to the batsman) and stumps (one of three posts making up the wicket).

You don’t want to get stumped (that’s when the batsman misses and the keeper snags the ball and taps the stumps) or caught (when the field catches the ball, with no gloves, hit by the striker).

You can even hit the ball backwards as the field utilizes 360-degree playing dimensions.

Some games can last for days, but the form that the Cardinals play is called ‘Twenty20,’ a shortened version of the game that helps showcase it to a new audience. Innings are limited to 20 overs (the delivery of six consecutive balls by one bowler) per side.

On championship weekend, four teams will compete for the largest prize in American cricket history. The winning team will take home $125,000 out of a $250,000 total purse. For fans, the finals are free to attend with food trucks, music and giveaways added to the festivities.

“Cricket is basically a team sport just like any other professional sport you see here in the U.S.,” said Cardinals co-owner Ram Kuntamukkala. “Basically, primarily played in South Asian countries, England, Australia. It’s really a very popular sport in many parts of the world.”

Stohlman grew up in Washington, D.C., and picked up cricket a few years ago.

“For us to go to the recreational stages to occasionally getting an international match to professional cricket is really unbelievable in a short amount of time,” Stohlman said. “In Morrisville there’s about a 38 percent South Asian community, so with that you get a lot of interest in the sport that around the world that is the second-most popular sport.”

The semifinals will be held on Saturday, Oct. 2, with the championship match scheduled for Oct. 3.

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