T20 World Cup: Techie who engineered US cricket’s greatest moment

T20 World Cup: Techie who engineered US cricket’s greatest moment

New York: Walking out to bowl at the Grand Prairie stadium in Dallas, Saurabh Netravalkar must have felt a sense of deja vu: overcast morning of a World Cup game, opponents in green and Babar Azam at the crease.

Back in 2010, he was at the top of his mark at the Bert Sutcliffe Oval in Lincoln (New Zealand), looking to help India defend 115 against Pakistan in the quarterfinal, Azam was there, and finished the rain truncated game with figures of 5-1-16-1. As impressive as his figures were, India ended up crashing out of a shot at the title in the Under-19 World Cup. 

Saurabh – like his team-mates KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Mandeep Singh, Sandeep Sharma, Jaydev Unadkat, Ashok Menaria – was heartbroken. “He was devastated,” Naresh Netravalkar, Saurabh’s father, tells DH from Mumbai. “He genuinely believed a title there would have pushed him much further in India.”  

On Thursday, Saurabh was at the top of his mark looking to help the United States of America defend 19 runs in the Super Over against Pakistan. Having finished his quota with impressive figures of 4-0-18-2, the left-arm seamer was called on by skipper Monank Patel to do the needful. 

Saurabh conceded 13 runs, and the United States left Pakistan in a state of shock after their five-run win. 

It was a win which could have come earlier had they not shown nerves, but this was more fun. At least, Naresh thought so. “Nothing comes straightforward with Saurabh (laughs). Things have always gone round and round with him, but eventually it all works out.”

Naresh is referring to Saurabh’s journey. It is one which starts with a 10-year-old Saurabh being enrolled at Vengsarkar’s academy in Mumbai and ends, for now, with him becoming the face of United States’ greatest cricketing moment. 

Saurabh, obviously, harboured dreams of representing India, and he was’t being delusional about his skills either. The boy was good from the get-go, even earning a spot in the BCCI Corporate Trophy after making the most of Air India’s Sports scholarship at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru. 

A year from then, though, Saurabh had to put his other great passion – academics – to rest (he sat out his first semester computer engineering exams at the Sardar Patel Institute of Technology) as he was picked for the Indian Under-19 team headed to New Zealand for the World Cup in 2010. He sat out first semester

“Things were looking very good for him because he had proved himself at the highest stage but it was hard to break into the Mumbai team at the time, lots of competition,” says Naresh. 

He eventually did make it to the senior state side and featured in a Ranji Trophy game against Karnataka at the M Chinnaswamy stadium. He finished with three wickets in the game in Karnataka’s victory.  

Not a great start, but not a bad one either, and yet he was not picked thereafter. 

Miffed, Saurabh decided he had had enough because he had quit a job in Pune only a few months earlier to pursue cricket in earnest and this is what he was getting in return. 

“He had told me that he would try cricket for a couple of years seriously and if that doesn’t work out, he would go to the US on a scholarship and do his masters. That was his plan, and that was entirely his decision. He is very organised so we as parents don’t need to step in at all,” says Naresh. “So organised that he cleaned his cricket kit, packed it up, and left it behind here before boarding the flight to Cornell University.”

Saurabh folded up his dreams of becoming a professional cricketer and went onto become an employee with Oracle in San Francisco. He continues to work there as ‘Principal Member of Technical Staff’. In fact, his leave is only till June 17.

It’s unsure if his employees will give Saurabh an extension on the leave because he is changing the face of US cricket, but they were accommodating when he tried to fit into the system a few years ago so this mustn’t be much of an ask. 

Saurabh resumed playing cricket in recreational capacity to expand his social circles, but by 2016, he was serious about cricket again. It helped that the International Cricket Council lowered their minimum residency for eligibility from four years to three. In 2018, Saurabh made his List A debut for the US. 

“He was so sad when he had to leave cricket behind, it was tough on him but once he made up his mind, we couldn’t stop him. We did try and tell him to continue because he was so close to making it,” says Naresh. 

“But, one of the other, he finds a way, like now. It’s his destiny,” he adds. 

It surely does sound like it was.

Published 07 June 2024, 14:12 IST

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