Saurabh Netravalkar: American cricketer who once played for India

Legend, Saurabh Netravalkar will be part of the American team against Indian cricketers in a T20 World Cup match on Wednesday.

  • Author, Janhavee Moole
  • Role, BBC Marathi

In 2015, Saurabh Netravalkar gave up his dream of playing professional cricket in India and moved to the United States to work as a software engineer.

“Cricket was over for me. I no longer had any hope or expectation of playing again,” he says.

On Wednesday, almost a decade later, he will face the Indian cricket team in a T20 World Cup match at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York.

But he will do it as part of the American team.

As he embarks on his World Cup dream, Netravalkar says the match will be an “emotional moment” for a cricketer who has previously played for the Indian Under-19 team.

“A lot of my old teammates now play for India,” he told the BBC.

But he doesn't let the prospect of facing his friends in a crucial match deter him.

He is full of confidence and this showed in his impeccable bowling last week in a super finished which led the United States to a historic victory against Pakistan.

Netravalkar is a story of perseverance, love for cricket and, also, the American dream.

Born and brought up in Mumbai, Netravalkar started playing cricket when he was just 10 years old.

His family lived in Malad, a suburb west of the city. After some remarkable performances as a teenager, he was chosen to represent India at the 2010 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Saurabh Netravalkar played for India in the 2010 Under-19 Cricket World Cup.

The tall left-arm fast bowler became the leading wicket-taker of the tournament for the Indian team.

Over the next few years, Netravalkar balanced his pursuit of cricket while studying to become an engineer and graduated in 2013.

After that, the bowler says he decided to concentrate on cricket, giving himself two years. During this time, he tried to secure a place in the national team as well as the Mumbai cricket team.

“I entered the [Mumbai] the team too. But I couldn’t consolidate my place or even get into the Indian Premier League (IPL),” he says.

A cricketer's career usually begins at the age of 23. But Netravalkar says he decided to leave the sport at that point.

“I was torn. Should I pursue cricket or concentrate on my studies? he says.

In 2015, he started studying at Cornell University in the United States for a degree in computer science. “It was a difficult decision,” he said.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Netravalkar also represented the Mumbai cricket team

But he could never completely give up his cricketing dreams.

While an engineering student in India, he had already developed CricDeCode, an application to help cricketers analyze their game.

At Cornell, Netravalkar watched students play cricket and joined a club to compete in intercollegiate tournaments.

Shortly after graduating, Netravalkar got a job with software giant Oracle and moved to California.

In San Francisco, Netravalkar began playing club cricket. “They had tournaments on the weekends. I would work for five days and play Saturday and Sunday.

It was a long way from professional cricket, but it was still a chance to play the game.

“San Francisco still doesn’t have suitable land. They play on an artificial pitch which looks more like a synthetic carpet,” he explains. “But they had dirt pitches in a park in Los Angeles – it’s like the Maidan [a famous park] in Bombay.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Netravalkar played for the Silicon Valley Strikers in the 2022 Minor League Cricket Pacific Conference finals in North Carolina.

Every Friday night, he would drive six hours to Los Angeles to play a Saturday game. Then he would return to play a game in San Francisco on Sunday.

“In the club [in Los Angeles], there were three or four players who were part of the American team,” he says. “That’s when I learned America had a cricket team.”

“On long weekends, they held tournaments all over the country, mainly in Florida, with even players from the West Indies participating. »

These tournaments provided a good platform, but Netravalkar still did not dream of playing for the American national team.

“I had a student visa then a work visa. So there was no question of playing for the team.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), which governs the sport across the world, also had a rule requiring Netravalkar to have lived in the United States for seven years and be a permanent resident.

But the rule changed in 2018 and Netravalkar was chosen for the American cricket team. In 2019, the ICC also granted international T20 status to all of its associate members, including the United States.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Netravalkar seen celebrating with teammate Harmeet Singh after USA beat Pakistan in a super over during the T20 Cricket World Cup match on June 6.

“Many think it's easier to play for obscure teams that are considered underdogs,” he says.

“But the fight is even harder here. Playing for associated countries is difficult because they lack basic infrastructure,” he explains.

All of the players on Team USA also have full-time jobs and juggle family responsibilities.

“So we practice indoors from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m..”

In a country like the United States, distance adds to the difficulty of bringing players from different corners together to play together.

The team therefore generally meets 10 days before a tournament to train.

The United States overcame these obstacles to advance from the upper divisions of cricket to the T20 World Cup this year. They are already qualified for the 2026 World Cup.

“The level of local cricket has increased here,” says Netravalkar.

“The major and minor leagues made a huge difference because they gave us the chance to play with the best players. Better grounds are being built and the grounds are improving.

Cricket academies in the country are also training new players.

Even as the number of fans for the sport grows in places like California, Netravalkar says American cricket faces a difficult road ahead.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Netravalkar says playing for associated countries like the United States brings a different kind of pressure

“There is only one tournament per year where we play five matches in seven days. So, all our efforts throughout the year are put to the test in these five days alone.

“If you win, you can continue. Or there is nothing.

Before this T20 World Cup, USA beat Bangladesh in a series which boosted their confidence.

Then, in the first match of this tournament, they beat Canada before upsetting Pakistan.

Netravalkar is now gearing up to face his former Indian teammates in Wednesday's match.

“It's nice to reconnect with them and I'm happy with what they have achieved – for India and in the IPL,” he said.

Despite facing a star-studded team, Netravalkar is optimistic about his team's chances.

“They [India] we trained for hours and had very limited resources. But anything can happen in T20,” he said.

“We are positive. We will do our best during these three hours.

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