A day to believe cricket is not just an American Dream

Saurabh Netravalkar moved to the United States in 2015. He was 23 and had accepted a difficult reality. He wasn’t going to be a professional cricketer.

“It was a very emotional call,” Netravalkar said in an interview last year. “I packed my bags and moved to the US to study. I never dreamt that I’d get to play cricket again. I didn’t even bring my cricket shoes.”

A decade later and Netravalkar is stood at the top of his mark in a World Cup, tasked with bowling the Super Over against Pakistan that will earn USA cricket the biggest win in their history.

“It’s a very humbling feeling that life has given me a second chance to pursue what I love doing,” Netravalkar said. “And I really feel that bliss as soon as I walk onto the field to play competitive cricket.”

As Netravalkar bowled, the bliss was evident. Ten minutes earlier, Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir, a veteran of over 100 international matches and a 2009 T20 World Cup winner, had lost his cool in a nine-ball over that went for 18. But Netravalkar, an eight-year veteran of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, where he continues to work full time, held his nerve. Dot, four, wide, wicket and the match was done.

To this day, Netravalkar’s Twitter bio lists his role as a Principal Member of Technical Staff at Oracle, first, and Professional Cricketer at USA Cricket, second. It is time to swap those around.

For many, this result was a confirmation of what they already knew. That cricket’s potential in this country is immense, with the challenge being harnessing it.

Those facts were evident in the aftermath of Netravalkar sealing victory. A historic win, met with as much an outpouring of relief as an explosion of joy.

USA were full value for their win. And had they not crossed the line, the reaction wouldn’t have been pats on the back and better luck next time, but a side of quality professionals bereft at the opportunity they’d let slip. After the first eight overs of Pakistan’s innings, the visitors were 40 for 3. And with seven overs to go of USA’s, they were 104 for 1 with only 56 left to win.

In both instances, Pakistan pulled it back, but far from being a day belonging solely to Netravalkar, it was one that highlighted the depth of US cricket and the playing ability below the big names.

For all the noise of parachuted players like Corey Anderson who flipped nations after a successful international career with New Zealand, this was an Anderson-less victory. His sole contribution to the match was a single over that went for six runs.

Instead, the heroes were lesser known figures such as captain Monank Patel, who made 50 off 38 balls, Nosthush Kenjige and Nitish Kumar.

Kenjige, born in Alabama but raised in Karnataka, took 3 for 30 in his first match of the competition. He moved back to the States in 2015 and worked as a hospital technician. When he decided he wanted to requalify for the US as a cricketer, he’d work from 9-5 before driving to an indoor centre from 6-10 in order to complete the 800 hours of coaching that were necessary to prove to the ICC that someone had “a commitment to the local community.” This isn’t a team of people mumbling the national anthem with a new badge on their chest, but a group of players living out, if not their childhood dream, then their adult one.

That context applies to Nitish, who was born in Canada and represented them in the 2011 ODI World Cup as a 16-year-old, before switching nations in 2020.

World Cup’s provide the opportunity for people to live out their dreams, but they also offer the opportunity for people to live out their nightmares. And with one ball of USA’s innings to go, Nitish was experiencing the latter.

i?img=%2Fmedia%2Fmotion%2F2024%2F0606%2Fdm 240606 INET CRIC wc24%2Dm11kenjige maruti global%2Fdm 240606 INET CRIC wc24%2Dm11kenjige maruti globalplay


Mumtaz: Kenjige here for the long run

The USA left-arm spinner picked up 3 for 30 against Pakistan in the T20 World Cup

Arriving at the crease at No.5 with 49 required off 35 balls, he went boundary-less for a tortured 10 not out off 13. Off the final ball of the innings, he managed to chip a low full toss over mid-off and to the boundary to force a Super Over. And three balls later, he took the spectacular catch at long-off that all but sealed their victory. He’ll remember this day for the rest of his life, and mercifully, for good reasons rather than bad.

However, throughout the hysteria and the joy, there was also a reminder of the challenges that cricket in the USA faces. Five days ago, Aaron Jones, who shone once again here with 35 off 25 before playing the defining batting role in the Super Over, inspired a roaring stadium with the innings of a lifetime.

The fist pumps that followed each boundary on Saturday night were back again this Thursday afternoon, but rather than revving up an adoring home crowd, they were defiant in the face of a more sparsely attended stadium consisting mainly of Pakistani supporters.

“We knew that we don’t have support from the crowd,” captain Patel said after play. “Pakistan had more support from the crowd and I thought it would backfire on them…they’ll be under more pressure.”

This World Cup in the USA is primarily about harnessing the interest that already exists here rather than expanding it. A position that carries with it pragmatic strengths, but blue-sky weaknesses.

For instance, the broadcaster carrying the World Cup in North America is Willow. A cricket specialist channel that if you’re an existing fan is gold dust as it carries almost any match that’s happening on the planet. But if you’re not an existing fan, you don’t even have the opportunity to accidentally scroll onto it as you’re flicking through channels. You won’t even know it’s not there.

America loves winners. But largely America doesn’t know it currently has one in its cricket team. Through Major League Cricket and the national side, they have the money and the quality to look after the short term of the game. And in growing diasporas such as the Nepali community that saw 5,500 people turn up to the middle of Texas to watch their match against Netherlands, they have the genuine interest and passion to look after it in the long term.

Far from just having the opportunity to grow the game, American cricket has a responsibility to, because if they get it right, this is a fairytale that’s only just beginning.

Source link

Scroll to Top