Saurabh Netravalkar's engineer colleagues still don't believe he plays T20 World Cup for USA: 'When I play vs India…' | Crickit
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Saurabh Netravalkar's engineer colleagues still don't believe he plays T20 World Cup for USA: 'When I play vs India…'

Jun 12, 2024 02:11 PM IST

Netravalkar is not sure whether his world will change after this World Cup. But he is certain that all of his colleagues will know him as a man of many talents.

A few days before the T20 World Cup, a screenshot of Saurabh Netravalkar's LinkedIn profile started making the rounds on social media platforms. The screenshot contained comments from Oracle employees expressing surprise at seeing Netravalkar in the USA's T20 World Cup squad. It was hard for his colleagues to believe a full-time software engineer could also be a fast bowler at the highest level, but one shouldn't blame them. "Yeah, I'm aware of one of those viral screenshots," a soft-spoken Netravalkar told Hindustan Times.

Saurabh Netravalkar celebrates
Saurabh Netravalkar celebrates

A studious boy who rarely scored below 90 percent in school, Netravalkar was attracted to coding at an early age. He pioneered the development of a mobile application, Great Decode, which is still available on Google Play Store, to provide statistical data and digital scorecards for local cricketers.

His colleagues at the Redwood City, California office of Oracle know him as a thorough professional passionate about coding and always striving to develop something new every time. What some of them didn't know was his passion for cricket and that this T20 World Cup in the US and West Indies was not his first ICC event.

Netravalkar was one of India's lead seamers in the U19 World Cup in 2010. His teammates include Test cricketers KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Jaydev Unadkat. But unlike them, who were basking in the glory of IPL contracts and harbouring dreams of wearing the India cap, Netravalkar took a slower route. His first-class debut for Mumbai was in December of 2013, which, sadly, turned out to be his only one.

The move to USA and starting cricket from scratch

Juggling his passion for coding and mastering the art of swing bowling was getting increasingly difficult. He made the tough decision to focus on building a career in engineering. "In 2015, I moved to the US primarily to do my Masters in computer science. I had no clue that I'd be playing cricket here," said the left-arm fast bowler who didn't even carry his bowling shoes then.

It changed only when he started to play club cricket in California. "There used to be club-level college cricket there. So I played that for fun," the 32-year-old said. The passion was reignited. He started searching for long weekends to travel to Los Angeles to play more competitive cricket.

"I used to work five days a week, train at night in the indoors, and maybe drive to LA. It's a six-hour drive to LA. And LA was one of the few places at that time that had a proper turf pitch. I wanted to make use of that opportunity and play in LA. In the US, there are long weekends where Fridays or Mondays are off; that's when we have these franchise-based T20 tournaments," he said.

However, playing international cricket was still a distant dream. ICC had a strict policy of seven years of permanent residency before allowing to play international cricket. "I was initially on my student visa and then on my work visa, so I had no sort of expectations to play for the national team. But it was luck, or, I don't know, a destiny that just when I completed three years in the US, ICC changed the rule. Luckily, the US team was training in Woodley Park, Los Angeles at that time. I played a practice match with them. The coach was impressed. He told me to be ready and he picked me. It was like the stars coming together," Netravalkar added.

Netravalkar made his debut for the USA in 2019 and also went on to captain the side. But it was restricted to Division Four and Division Three matches. The real jump came when ICC announced that the USA would be a joint host for the 2024 T20 World Cup, giving them automatic tournament qualification. Netravalkar knew this was his chance to rub shoulders with the best, which he had always wanted to do.

Dream start to T20 World Cup

He bowled two overs for 16 runs against Canada in his World Cup debut. The USA won, but Netravalkar knew he was far from his best. It came in the next game against Pakistan. The left-arm seamer returned with figures of 2/18 in his four overs and then defended 18 in the Super Over to help his team script history - a maiden victory against a multiple-time world champion.

Netravalkar's phone hasn't stopped buzzing since then. Many of the messages, however, still end with a question. "Really?" "Is it you?"

"I get a lot of congratulations messages on my company messaging app Slack. "It's been nice. It's been good that people are wishing good. And good wishes are always good to take forward. My team members have been very supportive when I have been away on tours and some are still surprised that I also play cricket for USA," Netravalkar said.

Mixed feelings of playing against India

His next challenge will be different. It will be against India, his birthplace, a team he once dreamed of representing at this level. "Entering the field, I frankly don't know how I'm going to feel, but I'm excited for sure, to give my best on the field and see how my skills compare at that level. It is a great platform to compare where you stand. It will be feedback for us to learn and take away," he added.

The prospect of meeting players with whom he once shared the dressing room is also pretty exciting for Netravalkar. "I will be happy to meet some of the guys because I've been playing with them and against them in age-group cricket since childhood."

Netravalkar is not sure whether his world will change after this World Cup. But he is certain his colleagues will know him as a man of many talents.

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