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Against the odds, the USA cricket team has captured hearts and minds with historic run at Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup

<i>Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Netravalkar's skill with the ball has proved vital to the USA's success in the tournament.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Netravalkar's skill with the ball has proved vital to the USA's success in the tournament.

By Ben Morse and Patrick Snell, CNN

(CNN) — One is a software engineer. Another was a mobile phone sales representative, while a third only recently quit his job as a biomedical engineer.

These are some of the players that are part of the USA men’s cricket team, which pulled off one of the greatest shocks in the sport’s long history in beating Pakistan at the T20 World Cup, while also giving powerhouse India a bit of a fright in the group stage.

And now, it will be playing in the next round of the tournament having qualified for the Super 8 stage of the T20 World Cup after its game against Ireland on Friday was abandoned.

A momentous day

Born and raised in Mumbai, India, USA bowler Saurabh Netravalkar began playing cricket from an early age. Such was the promise he showed that he was selected for India’s team for the Under-19 World Cup in 2010, finishing the tournament as the country’s leading wicket taker.

After juggling playing the sport with other commitments, Netravalkar chose to focus on cricket in an attempt to make it to the full India national team.

But, as the dream to represent India appeared to be fading away, Netravalkar moved to Cornell University in New York to continue his studies in computer science, though he continued to play cricket.

In 2016, he got a job at technology company Orcale in San Francisco where he has worked ever since.

While he was playing at weekends for club teams, Netravalkar was still a long way from international competition; not least because the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) rules at the time wouldn’t have qualified him for the USA national team.

“I was on a student visa and then a work visa. So there was no question of playing for the team,” he told the BBC.

However, those rules were subsequently loosened and Netravalkar quickly established himself as a vital cog in the USA’s bowling attack, being selected as the team’s captain and, at the time of writing, he is the country’s all-time leading wicket taker.

But the highlight of his career to date came during that match against Pakistan.

After the USA dragged the game against Pakistan to a Super Over and having set a competitive score of 18 runs, Netravalkar took the ball into his own hands.

His combination of accuracy and variation bamboozled the Pakistani batters, limiting them to just 13 runs to secure a famous win in the USA’s debut appearance at the T20 World Cup.

And one of the team’s key players, Aaron Jones, said that that moment was one which he and his teammates had “been dreaming about our whole lives.”

“To play in a World Cup, especially in front of our home fans, and definitely to play against a full member nation and not only to play but to win against them is a great feeling,” Jones told CNN’s Patrick Snell.

Full members nations are the 12 governing bodies from around the world recognised by the ICC from which representative teams are qualified to play official Test matches.

Jones, was born in Queens, New York, to parents from Barbados, featuring for the Caribbean island before switching allegiances to the US.

Just a few days later after beating Pakistan, the USA nearly had another famous scalp too, falling just short against India.

Netravalkar once again shone with the ball, picking up the invaluable wicket of Virat Kohli, widely regarded as one of the greatest batters in cricket history, who went out facing his first ball, and then getting the wicket of India captain Rohit Sharma.


Netravalkar isn’t the only the USA team player juggling work commitments.

Veteran USA bowler Ali Khan was selling mobile phones in Dayton, Ohio, just a few years ago, while spinner Nosthush Kenjige gave up his job as a biomedical engineer to focus on his cricket.

“The opportunity is more than a dream,” Kenjige told USA Cricket. “My life has always revolved around cricket.”

The USA team boasts players with connections to India, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand, while its coach is Australian Stuart Law.

‘Getting a lot of calls’

The victory against Pakistan was one which not only shocked the cricketing world, but also broke through into the wider US sports discourse.

Not only is the US one of the co-hosts for the T20 World Cup for the first time, but it is making its debut appearance on this stage.

It comes at an important moment for the sport in the US too, with efforts being made to establish a foothold in the country in recent years.

Notably, Major League Cricket (MLC) – a professional T20 league held in the US – began last year, with international stars from across the globe helping kickstart a new era for the sport in the country.

Jones, who has been one of the USA’s key contributors during the tournament, in particular with his 94 runs in their opening game of the World Cup against Canada, believes his team’s success so far can be seed for further engagement in cricket in the country going forward.

“We always want to really and truly open the eyes of Americans as it relates to cricket,” the 29-year-old batter said. “I think it’s a big market as it relates to cricket.

“We are just happy that we can play home. Playing at home is a really good thing. We’ve been getting a lot of calls, a lot of messages from Americans really and truly wanting to know more about the sport and we think that’s a really good thing. … I think things are just going to get bigger and better from here.”

Jones added: “I think if I am going to explain cricket to an American is its basically baseball with different rules. But I think America is a place where people loves sports and as long as Americans really and truly follow cricket and try to get to know cricket, I think they’ll enjoy it for sure and they’ll give us more support for sure.”

Although the USA knew a win against Ireland would secure its qualification for the Super 8 stage, the match was abandoned due to wet conditions meaning its historic run at the tournament continues.

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