Made in Mumbai, leading USA - a second chance for Netravalkar

Former India U-19 cricketer Saurabh Netravalkar is in Mumbai with the USA cricket team to train for the tri-nation series in Kathmandu.

US cricket team captain Saurabh Netravalkar at the Sachin Tendulkar Gymkhana in Mumbai on Friday.   -  SHAYAN ACHARYA

 

As a kid growing up in Mumbai, Saurabh Netravalkar always dreamt of playing for India. He was good at academics but cricket was the first love for the Malad boy.

The hours spent bowling at the nets had paid off as the tall left-arm seamer scalped 30 wickets in the Cooch Behar Trophy in the 2008-09 season to break into the India U-19 team for World Cup 2010. India internationals K.L. Rahul and Mayank Agarwal were his teammates then.

Despite being India’s leading wicket-taker in the ICC tournament in New Zealand, it took him three more years to find a place in the Mumbai Ranji Trophy team. A first-class debut against Karnataka and a three-wicket haul was not enough to cement his place in the side.

By then, he had earned an engineering degree from Sardar Patel Institute of Technology and in 2015, when he got a chance to pursue a Master’s Degree in Computer Science at Cornell University in New York, he decided to move on. “I had to be a little practical, I wasn’t making it at the first-class level and you have to look for a plan B,” Netravalkar explained.

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He thought his cricketing ambitions were over. “I did not even carry my kits with me. I always loved to study and was interested in Computer Science. So when I got the opportunity to study, I moved to the US.”

Being a true Mumbaikar, it was not easy to start afresh. In a country where cricket is still a niche sport, Netravalkar had to rely on the television or browse the Internet to keep a tab on cricketing affairs. He called up former U-19 teammates Mayank and Karun Nair (India players by then) to chat, but never in his dreams, did he think about marking his bowling run-up one day.

Cut to 2020. It’s a bright and sunny January morning and Netravalkar is training at the Sachin Tendulkar Gymkhana in Kandivali with his team-mates from USA.

The USA cricket team is set to travel to Kathmandu for a tri-nation series, and the former Mumbai pacer is the captain. “I always tell them about the Mumbai cricketing culture, which teaches you to not give up. I want to imbibe that spirit in the team.” the engineer said.

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In his younger days, he would train at the same facility in Kandivali. “It’s a pretty nostalgic to be back where I grew up playing cricket. And obviously, to represent a nation is a pride in itself. It's like a second chance that life gave me,” he said.

How it started again

“When I joined the college, I realised there is something called American College Cricket and inter-college tournaments. After college studies were over, I joined Oracle and moved to San Francisco. When I moved there, my coach in Mumbai (Sangram Sawant) hooked me up with a club there, and that’s how it started,” Netravalkar reminisced.

By 2018, he was eligible to represent the USA after the ICC lowered the minimum residency for eligibility from four years to three. “That was a great opportunity,” said the 28-year-old.

He did not have to look back. And now, as captain of the USA, he wants to make his presence felt.