Rekindling the dreams

Cricket

UNITED COLOURS: The United States team celebrates after attaining the ODI status. USA Cricket

USA cricket’s milestone moment, that arrived two weeks ago, had a strong Indian connect to it. The minnows of the game, who gained ODI status for the first time, boasted of six Indian players. 

Apart from skipper Saurabh Netravalkar, vice-captain Jaskaran Malhotra, Timil Patel, Nosthush Pradeep Kenjige, Monank Patel and Jessey Singh were the India-born players who were part of the squad that sealed the ODI status with a win over Hong Kong in the ICC World Cricket League Division II tournament.

India’s reputation of a cricket-mad nation has only grown stronger over the years. There is no dearth of stories of unfulfilled dreams. Due to unceasing competition, many are forced to pursue different professions.

Many others still keep their passion intact and look for opportunities to stay connected with the game. International Cricket Council (ICC) has reignited their dreams by expanding the game beyond the traditional powerhouses. The world governing body has chosen T20 -- the shortest format of the sport -- to further popularise cricket.

In the coming months, regional tournaments have been scheduled in Africa, Europe, Asia and America.

A country like the United States, where the game doesn’t have strong roots, has to look for expats to keep the fire burning. 

Saurabh, a former Mumbai Ranji Trophy player, is thrilled to have led the USA to its latest achievement. Four years ago, Saurabh made the move to New York to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at Cornell University. Education and not cricket was Saurabh’s first priority.

Staying in touch

Representing the University team was his way of staying in touch with the game but that soon helped him gain a place in the US national side. Saurabh’s success with the USA has a lot to do with his experience with Mumbai cricket, popular for its gritty brand of cricket.

“Coming through the ranks of Mumbai cricket makes you mentally strong and enables you to push yourself and raise your game under pressure. Though I couldn’t make it big, I have overcome many challenges in the fiercely competitive Indian cricket circuit,” says Saurabh.

Today, Saurabh says he has realised his dreams.

“In India, you have to give 100 per cent every time you play. If you don’t there are 20-25 players waiting to take your place. Playing in this environment toughened me and helped me excel here. The ODI status opens up opportunities for the current players. It’s a second chance that life has given me and I am grateful for USA cricket for believing in me and trusting me as a leader,” says the 27-year-old left-arm seamer, employed with Oracle in San Francisco.

For Jaskaran, USA’s vice-captain, it was heart-breaking to not make it big in India after having shown promise early on. A former India U-19 player, Jaskaran made the national camp a couple of times but never made the senior squad. “I wanted to play for India. That was the ultimate goal. I tried my best, kept working on my skills and fitness. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many chances at the zonal level,” he says.

Jaskaran, a Punjabi, played for Himachal during his growing days. The now 29-year-old met his wife Preti in the US and decided to shift from India after their marriage. The right-hand batsman recollects a pleasant memory of taking on Indian skipper Virat Kohli.

“It was a great honour to lead Himachal against Delhi which had Virat. Both of us are Punjabis and we are good friends. I met him in India after the 2015 World Cup and we recollected our happy memories,” says, who has set up a cricket academy in Houston.

Second stint

Jaskaran’s second stint has given him chances to play against the best in the business. “One of my memorable knocks was against a Pakistan 11. It wasn’t an official game but I made 140 with 12 sixes. It was special to hit Shahid Afridi for four sixes. I am thrilled with the ODI status. We as a team are pumped up and want to achieve more,” he gushes.

Timil Patel has the distinction of scoring a half-century on his ODI debut. The 35-year-old, a former India U-19, played 38 first-class games for Gujarat before fading away. Timil speaks about the challenges of playing for a new nation.

“We are from different backgrounds. For us to play as a unit, we had to be like a family and enjoy each other’s success. We have done just that and that’s why we have grown as a side,” Timil offers.

Coach Pubudu Dassanayake, proud of his team’s show, expects cricket to grow manifold in the future in the United States. “The cricket community is very vibrant here. Parents are enrolling their children into cricket academies and that’s an encouraging sign. There is a lot of young talent coming through,” he points out.

Dassanayake is confident of helping the country take further steps in world cricket.

“The USA takes great pride in all sports and that explains their dominance in multi-sport events at the world level. We want to tap into the rich resources the country offers. This is a vital year for us. We want to play well in the T20 World Cup qualifiers in August. We are gearing up for the global ODI league which gives us a chance to qualify for the 2023 World Cup,” he explains.

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