Cricket is a great leveller as talent, hard work can never go unrewarded. The story of Mumbai-born Saurabh Netravalkar is on similar lines. He started as an Indian Under-19 star, but left cricket altogether to pursue a career in engineering in the US.
But as luck would have it, cricket found him again in the US. And now, he captains the US national team. Maharashtra’s Sushil Nadkarni and Hyderabad’s Ibrahim Khaleel have also captained the US national team. But Saurabh’s story is different and stuff dreams are made of.
He would have probably then dreamt of an Indian debut and a successful career for the national team. But Saurabh managed to play just one first-class game for Mumbai before he left the country to pursue a career in engineering.
What made Saurabh stop cricket altogether?
Saurabh told a leading daily of India that despite devoting two years to cricket, he felt he was not making it to the next level. “So I sat for the GRE and TOEFL exams. I got admission in Cornell University for a master’s in computer science, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a difficult decision,” Saurabh told The Times of India.
But thanks to cricket making progress across the globe, a baseball-loving country such as the US found the gentleman’s game slowly making its entry due to the migrants from the sub-continent, and the Caribbean nation.
According to the ICC statistics, cricket is played in 48 states with over 400 leagues, 6,000 teams, and more than 200,000 participants in the US. And the fans too are large in numbers. They are anywhere between 22 million and 36 million in the US.
However, Saurabh says he has no expectations of playing cricket when he came to study at Cornell University. He says he saw a few people playing cricket in the college and he joined them. He then heard about American College Cricket and joined them and that’s how he started playing cricket professionally.
But it was his move to San Francisco for a job in Oracle that turned around things for him. He joined Marin Cricket Club in San Francisco and then moved on to Los Angeles to play for Vijeta CC. LA has proper pitches, he says. On weekends, he played tournaments where big players came in and he got a good exposure, he says.
Saurabh says it was difficult managing his work and cricket commitments simultaneously. He says he hits an indoor net for two hours after office. And on other days, he hits the gym while playing club matches on weekends. He remembers an incident when he played two 50-overs games on Sat and Sun in two different locations while he travelled by night, and he was back to work on Monday.
“I put in a lot of effort which was noticed by selectors and I was brought into the national team,” he says. “It is an honour to be part of the US national team,” he adds. Saurabh has had even been in Guyana Amazon Warriors squad for Caribbean Premier League, but he did not get a game.
Nevertheless, Saurabh says he is happy to lead US national team and now his focus is to make his adopted country qualify for 2023 cricket World Cup. They are set to play World Cricket League Division III, which is the qualifier for 2023 World Cup.
But Saurabh has set his eyes on more than that. He is doing his bit to popularise the game in the US. “I have mentored a few kids. Gradually, the locals are also showing interest,” he says.
Even Cricket USA is also doing whatever it takes to make the sport popular in the US. “Cricket USA has started a rookie league where they pick up kids from schools. They are trying to expand the base. They are also gradually building infrastructure,” Saurabh says.