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From Malad to San Francisco: Saurabh Netravalkar finally has his moment under the sun

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From Malad to San Francisco – it has been quite a journey for Saurabh Netravalkar. The fast bowler, who played a fair amount of domestic cricket for Mumbai before shifting base to the US, had the biggest moment of his career on Thursday as he guided the USA cricket team to an iconic victory against Pakistan via a Super Over in a T20 World Cup fixture.

Not many would have imagined the USA could pull off such a fascinating feat, but the seasoned Netravalkar held his nerves and ensured that Pakistan stuttered in pursuit of its chase of 19 in the Super Over, eventually falling five runs short.

As his team-mates celebrated the stupendous success, it was quite an emotional outing for the fast bowler from Mumbai.

Growing up in the suburb of Malad, Netravalkar always dreamt of playing cricket for India. He was good at academics, but cricket was his first love. The hours spent bowling at the nets finally paid off, with the tall left-arm seamer scalping 30 wickets in the Cooch Behar Trophy (2008-09) and breaking into the Indian team for the 2010 ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand. K.L. Rahul and Mayank Agarwal, current internationals, were his teammates then.

Despite emerging as India’s leading wicket-taker at the World Cup, it took him three more years to earn a place in Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy team. A three-wicket haul in his first-class debut against Karnataka was not enough to cement his place in the side. By then, he had earned an engineering degree from Sardar Patel Institute of Technology in Andheri. In 2015, when a chance to pursue a Master’s degree in computer science at Cornell University, New York, came up, he decided to move on.

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“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 had told  Sportstar earlier.

When he shifted base, Netravalkar thought his cricketing ambitions were over. In fact, he did not even carry his kits with to the US. Initially, he thought of just focusing on his studies. In a country where cricket is still a niche sport, Netravalkar had to even rely on the television or browse the Internet to keep tabs on cricketing affairs. He often called up his U-19 mates to chat, but never dreamt that he would be marking his bowling run-up one day.

But the 32-year-old never gave up.

While studying in the college, he came to know about the American College Cricket and inter-college tournaments. “After my studies were over, I joined Oracle and moved to San Francisco. Sangram Sawant, my coach in Mumbai, hooked me up with a club there,” he had said.

By 2018, Netravalkar was eligible to represent the U.S. after the ICC lowered the minimum residency eligibility from four years to three. That, indeed, was a great opportunity and he made the most of it and even went on to lead the USA, before there was a change of guard.

While things got tough during the lockdown, like several others, Netravalkar pursued his dreams and continued his training sessions and the lessons learnt in the Mumbai dressing room helped him battle the odds.

During his playing days, Netravalkar had shared the dressing room with Wasim Jaffer, Siddhesh Lad, Suryakumar Yadav and Shardul Thakur. He would train with Shardul and Lad, and those experiences helped him in the long run.

Back in 2010, he travelled to New Zealand with the India U-19 team for the World Cup. Under the captaincy of Ashok Menaria, the team finished sixth. While he had a dream of graduating to the senior Indian team, that did not happen. But years later, he has finally fulfilled his dreams of featuring in a World Cup, albeit for a different nation.

Netravalkar, surely, is enjoying every moment of it!

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