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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

Saurabh Netravalkar fulfills his American dream

Saurabh led USA to a historic 84-run win over Hong Kong in the WCL Division 2 in Namibia — a victory that secured the country One-Day International (ODI) status for the first time.

cricket Updated: Apr 25, 2019 23:41 IST
Ankit Kumar Singh
Ankit Kumar Singh
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Saurabh led USA to a historic 84-run win over Hong Kong in the WCL Division 2 in Namibia.
Saurabh led USA to a historic 84-run win over Hong Kong in the WCL Division 2 in Namibia. (Twitter)
         

When Saurabh Netravalkar, a left-arm seamer, moved to New York from Mumbai to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at Cornell University in August 2015, he didn’t carry even his cricket kit. A former India under-19 and Mumbai Ranji cricketer, Saurabh had decided to focus completely on academics, leaving behind his dream of playing international cricket.

Little did he know then destiny had other plans for him. He got back to cricket at university and after playing some club matches started taking the game seriously once he got a job at Oracle in San Francisco. By 2018, he was eligible to represent the USA after the ICC lowered the minimum residency for eligibility from four years to three.

The national call came deservedly for Saurabh in the same year he was able to impress coach Pubudu Dassanayake with a brilliant spell for Southern California Cricket Association XI against a USA XI in a national-team warm-up match ahead of the World Cricket League (WCL) Division Three. Soon, he was leading the national team in the World Cricket League (WCL) Division Three.

On Wednesday, Saurabh led USA to a historic 84-run win over Hong Kong in the WCL Division 2 in Namibia — a victory that secured the country One-Day International (ODI) status for the first time. The USA will now feature in Cricket World Cup League Two — a tournament which is part of the qualification pathway for the 2023 World Cup to be held in India — and are guaranteed at least 36 ODIs over the next two-and-a-half years.

Saurabh’s father, Naresh Netravalkar, who lives in Mumbai, was ecstatic with his son’s success. “I’m very happy for him. He always wanted to play cricket at top level and finally he is living his dream. He has worked really hard managing his work and cricket together,” he said.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

Saurabh first caught the attention of the cricket fraternity when he claimed nine wickets at an average of 17.22 to finish as India’s leading wicket taker in the ICC under-19 World Cup in New Zealand. During the tournament, he had dismissed current England captain Joe Root and Pakistan opener Ahmed Shehzad.

In 2013, he made his Ranji Trophy debut for Mumbai against Karnataka where he claimed three wickets in the match. However, two years later he decided to focus on studies after not getting another opportunity to represent Mumbai in first-class cricket. Saurabh, who did his graduation in engineering from Sardar Patel Institute of Technology here, wrote the GRE and TOEFL exams and left for the US where he rediscovered his love for the game.

NOT THE FIRST CAPTAIN FROM MAHARASHTRA

Saurabh is not the first cricketer from Maharashtra to captain the USA, though. In the past, Sushil Nadkarni had got the honour in 2012. Son of an Air Force officer, Sushil’s journey was very similar to that of Saurabh. He once was part of India’s under-19 team that toured Australia and scored a half-century against an attack that included Brett Lee.

However, he too left cricket and moved to the US to pursue engineering before rediscovering his love for the game and making it to the national cricket team. He is now satisfied with the progress of the current team and hopes cricket will achieve baseball-like popularity in US someday.

“USA Cricket achieving ODI status is a huge milestone for the growth of cricket not only in USA but also globally. This journey started in 2008 in World Cricket League Division 5 in Jersey near UK. It took us 11 years to get to ODI status and there were many ups and downs along the way.

“The players and management both current and past have put in a lot of hard work and sacrifices over the past few years to get to this position. Cricket has the potential to become a major sport in USA as it is similar to baseball in concept,” said Sushil, who is an area manager of Environment Research Management (ERM) in Texas.