It was the second ball of the Indian innings. Virat Kohli faced somebody who he could have been teammates with had things worked out differently – Saurabh Netravalkar.

A graduate of the class of the 2010 Indian Under-19 team, Mumbai-born and bred Netravalkar had dazzled on the biggest stage of his career, when he orchestrated the Super-Over victory for United States of America against Pakistan in their ICC Men’s T20 World Cup group stage match in Dallas on June 7.

But on Wednesday, up against a team from his country of birth, donning the jersey of his adopted nation, Netravalkar was about to wreak havoc.

Kohli stepped up and tried to feel for a length ball that was in the channel. Unfortunately for the veteran Indian batter, this wasn’t the ball to fiddle around with, and he ended up edging it to Andries Gous, the American wicketkeeper. India were 6/1 inside the first two balls of their innings.

Next up, India captain Rohit Sharma. Not just a Mumbai boy, but one who was familiar with the neighbourhoods and maidans that also shaped Netravalkar.

This time, it was the second ball of his second over that bamboozled Sharma with a scrambled seam delivery that saw the India captain mistime a shot and provide Harmeet Singh with a simple catch.

While Netravalkar celebrated the wickets with his teammates, over 12,000 kilometres away in Mumbai, his father Naresh Netravalkar nodded in appreciation as his son caused the Indian chase to stutter quite remarkably in the Group A match in New York.

“Who he was bowling to is immaterial,” said Naresh Netravalkar to Scroll, when asked what his reaction was to the two wickets.

“I wanted [Saurabh Netravalkar] to do well in the match and he did exactly that. Thinking about these things [facing Sharma and Kohli] doesn’t make sense because they don’t matter when you’re playing at a tournament like this.”

This unilateral attitude is something that father and son share – Saurabh Netravalkar in his playing, and Naresh Netravalkar in his recollection of how his 32-year-old son ended up representing his adopted country.

Saurabh Netravalkar was enamoured with the sport from a very young age | Special arrangement

From the Mumbai maidans

Naresh Netravalkar recalled noticing an advertisement for free cricket coaching at an academy in Churchgate, in South Mumbai, when Saurabh Netravalkar was around 10 years old. The father-son duo were avid cricket fans, with the former having played the sport at college level during his engineering studies while the latter used to engage in the game with his friends in his apartment building.

Naresh Netravalkar signed up his son for the coaching program which saw about 250-300 boys turn out. There was a tone of pride in his voice as he recalled how the coaches were impressed with young Saurabh Netravalkar and selected him to undertake professional training at the academy.

“He started with proper training there and then he went on to be selected for all the age group teams for Mumbai,” said Naresh Netravalkar from their family home in Malad.

From then on, as Saurabh Netravalkar grew up, his focus never shifted from cricket or his studies. Naresh Netravalkar and his wife Rama encouraged him to pursue the sport while keeping his academics as a back-up in case he failed in cricket.

“It’s more difficult to get selected for the Mumbai team than it is for the Indian [national] team,” Naresh Netravalkar said, with a laugh.

The advice to stick to his studies was because the competition for a spot in the Mumbai Ranji team was incredibly fierce. And as Netravalkar entered college for his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Sardar Patel Institute of Technology, he was given a golden chance – a call-up for the 2010 U19 World Cup in New Zealand.

Saurabh Netravalkar’s teammates included KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Jaydev Unadkat, Harshal Patel and his current US teammate Harmeet Singh.

“He ended up missing an exam in his first year because of the World Cup,” recalled Naresh Netravalkar. “But he didn’t lose focus on his studies – he made up for the exam the next year and balanced cricket with his college very well.”

Entering the tournament as defending champions, India lost in the quarter-finals to Pakistan. But Saurabh Netravalkar finished as India’s leading wicket-taker in the tournament, with nine wickets in six matches.

However, this didn’t immediately translate into a spot in the Mumbai squad. For that, Saurabh Netravalkar would have to wait until he finished his bachelor’s degree.

The only domestic senior call-up for him was a Ranji match for Mumbai, playing against Karnataka in Bengaluru in December 2013.

“He played one match and then in the second match, seniors came and he was dropped,” said Naresh Netravalkar.

“He was very disappointed, but he told us [his parents] that he wanted two more years before he gave up the sport completely.”

By 2015, the then 24-year-old decided to accept the offer from Cornell University in the US for a master’s degree in computer science and hang up his boots.

New York was calling him after all.

(L-R) Mother Rama, Saurabh Netravalkar, sister Nidhi and father Naresh Netravalkar during the 2019 Division ODI qualifiers in Oman | Special arrangement

The engineer-cum-bowler

Once he moved to the US, Saurabh Netravalkar did not play cricket for an entire year, even though he had carried his equipment along with him.

After graduating, the cricket dream remained elusive as he took up a job in a computer software company in California.

But a phone call from a coach in India changed everything.

“His old coach called him up and gave him a contact of a local cricket club near where he worked,” Naresh Netravalkar said. “They played on the weekends, so it was a chance for him to stay close to cricket.”

The left-arm pacer, whose family is originally from Goa, ended up finding his second home on the Californian coast. A coach at the club, which was in the Bay Area, found out that Saurabh Netravalkar had represented India at the Under 19 level and urged him to sign up to represent the US at the international level.

Two years after he restarted his cricketing career in the US, the International Cricket Council changed its rules on representation with residents in one country now needing three years as opposed to seven years from the last time they played for another country.

Lucky for Saurabh Netravalkar, he had just over three years under his belt when he took the field for Team USA in Dubai against the United Arab Emirates in a T20I match in 2019.

“If you get the time to play, it doesn’t matter [how he does it], it’s good,” said Naresh Netravalkar when asked about how he and his wife reacted to their son switching allegiances.

“His passion is there for the sport. And luckily, his job also was very understanding of his situation when he had to go travel for matches.”

The company Saurabh Netravalkar works for, Oracle, has indeed been supportive, providing the player leave till June 17 – the end of the group stage matches at the World Cup.

As it has panned out during this World Cup, Saurabh Netravalkar may need to extend his leave.

With wins over Canada and Pakistan, the US are in a strong position to enter the Super Eight stage of the contest. All they need now is a win over Ireland on Friday, in their last match of the group stage – even a single point if the game is washed out due to rain will be enough.

For Naresh Netravalkar, this will be a brilliant result for his son’s team, even if the father hoped for India to win on Wednesday night.

The grounds have changed from the Oval maidan in Mumbai to the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York. But the pre and post-match chats between father and son remain the same – focus on your game and success will be yours eventually.

In 2015, Saurabh Netravalkar arrived in New York from Mumbai, leaving behind his cricketing dreams. In 2024, now 32, Saurabh Netravalkar leaves New York for Miami as the player who helped give his team a solid chance at making US cricket history.