NEW DELHI: Ex-India U-19 star. Software engineer. US cricket captain – Last month, life came full circle for Saurabh Netravalkar. The 27-year-old former Mumbai medium pacer, who had quit the game to study computer science in Cornell University, became the captain of the US national cricket team.
- Netravalkar was India’s highest wicket-taker in the team’s ill-fated U-19 World Cup campaign in 2010.
- Netravalkar moved to the US in 2015 and joined Oracle as a software engineer.
- Netravalkar kept up his passion, driving six hours from San Francisco to Los Angeles during weekends.
The six-foot-tall left-arm seamer was India’s highest wicket-taker in the team’s ill-fated U-19 World Cup campaign in 2010. Two of his notable victims were England’s future captain Joe Root and Pakistan’s turbulent opener Ahmed Shehzad. Three years later, Netravalkar played his only Ranji Trophy game for Mumbai against Karnataka and claimed three wickets.
But Netravalkar wasn’t satisfied with his future. “I gave two years full-time to cricket but felt I wasn’t making it to the next level,” he told TOI over phone from San Francisco. An engineering graduate from Sardar Patel Institute of Technology in Mumbai, he took the GRE and TOEFL exams and went to Cornell for a Master’s in 2015. He rediscovered cricket during his Cornell years, and padded up for a new innings.
Ex-India U-19 star
Even after joining Oracle as a software engineer, Netravalkar kept up his passion, driving six hours from San Francisco to Los Angeles during weekends. “On Friday, I used to leave a little early from office with a fellow player and drive to LA. We would play a 50-over game in LA on Saturday. Then we would drive back in the night and play a 50-over game in San Francisco on Sunday. It was back to work on Monday. I put in a lot of effort which was noticed by the selectors. I got picked this January when I became eligible for national selection,” he says.
Cricket is growing fast in the US. As per ICC statistics, the game is played in 48 states with over 400 leagues, 6,000 teams and more than 200,000 participants. The game has a fan following of anywhere between 22 million and 36 million. The national team is a mix of players mostly from the West Indies, India and Pakistan. In the past, Maharashtra’s Sushil Nadkarni and Hyderabad’s Ibrahim Khaleel have also captained Team USA.
“Our coach, Pubudu Dassanyake, has kept wickets for Sri Lanka in both Tests and ODIs,” says Netravalkar, who was picked to play for Guyana Amazon Warriors in the Caribbean Premier League. He didn’t get a game though.
The team travels next week to Oman where they will play in the ICC World Cricket League Division 3. “It will be a qualifier for the 2023 ODI World Cup,” he says. Playing in the main tournament seems a distant dream. But stranger things have happened in the life of Saurabh Naresh Netravalkar.
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