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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Saurabh Netravalkar’s Journey from Mumbai to USA Cricket and Oracle

Balancing a career in tech with cricketing excellence, Netravalkar's story is a testament to perseverance and passion

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Roshan Bhondekar
Roshan Bhondekar
Author, Awards Winning Filmmaker. Covering voice of people, opinions around Technology and Career development. On the mission to redefine Journalism.

UNITED STATES: Born in 1991, Saurabh Netravalkar started his cricketing career in India, where he showcased his talent as a promising left-arm fast bowler. He was a standout player in the 2010 ICC U-19 World Cup, taking nine wickets and leading the Indian bowling attack.

Netravalkar’s cricketing journey took a significant turn when he moved to the United States in 2015 to pursue higher education. He earned a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Cornell University in 2016, adding to his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Mumbai. Balancing his academic pursuits with his passion for cricket, he developed a player analysis application during his time at Cornell.

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Computer Engineering and Cricket

After completing his studies, Netravalkar joined Oracle in 2016 as a member of the technical staff. His career at Oracle flourished, with promotions to senior member in 2018 and principal member in 2022. Simultaneously, he made his debut for the USA cricket team in 2018 and quickly became a pivotal player. His expertise in both cricket and coding has earned him admiration and respect from colleagues and fans alike.

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Netravalkar’s most notable cricketing achievement came during the 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. Playing against Pakistan, he was tasked with defending 18 runs in a Super Over—a high-pressure situation. Netravalkar’s calm and composed performance saw him conceding only 13 runs, leading the USA to a historic victory. This win not only showcased his cricketing prowess but also highlighted his ability to perform under immense pressure.

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In 2010, Saurabh Netravalkar experienced heartbreak against Pakistan in the quarter-final of the Under-19 World Cup in Christchurch. Babar Azam was in the opponent’s camp that day, as Pakistan edged India by two wickets in a rain-affected thriller. Fourteen years later, Netravalkar had the opportunity to win for his new country, the USA, in a T20 World Cup game against Pakistan. Tasked with bowling the Super Over, Netravalkar defended 18 runs, leading the USA to a famous win that significantly boosts their chances of securing a spot in the Super Eights.

If they succeed—they still have two more games against Ireland and India—Netravalkar may need to extend his official leave from his day job, set to end on June 17, by a couple of weeks. It’s likely he will never have to explain to his American colleagues the reason for his absence. All he will need to do is direct them to one of the many Instagram reels that have already popped up, celebrating the geeky Indian guy who moved to the USA to pursue a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering but has now become part of USA cricket’s folklore.

Saurabh Netravalkar’s Early Cricketing Aspirations

Netravalkar, 32, harbored dreams of playing for India for the longest time. He was a bristling left-arm quick who rattled Yuvraj Singh’s stumps at the NCA in Bengaluru in 2009 while on Air India’s sports scholarship. That delivery earned him a ticket to play in the then-prestigious BCCI Corporate Trophy.

He was suddenly sharing a dressing room with Yuvraj, Suresh Raina, and Robin Uthappa, all India stars by then. A certain Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni were among those in the opponent camp. Netravalkar, not yet 18 then, finished the tournament as the joint-highest wicket-taker and was on the plane with the Indian team for the Under-19 World Cup, alongside the likes of KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Jaydev Unadkat, Mandeep Singh, and Harshal Patel.

Playing in that tournament meant missing the entire first semester exams of his Computer Engineering degree that he had enrolled for six months earlier. That was the first big call he needed to make in his cricket career.

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Netravalkar hoped his performance in the World Cup—he was India’s highest wicket-taker in the competition—would pave the way for a berth in the senior Mumbai set-up, and perhaps even an IPL contract. However, opportunities with Mumbai were few and far between, with Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Aavishkar Salvi, and a young Dhawal Kulkarni making it difficult for the youngster to break in.

Netravalkar finally made his Ranji Trophy debut in 2013. Incidentally, he had just made another tough call a few months earlier, giving up a job as a software testing engineer in Pune to go all-in on cricket for the next two years. But being in and out of the set-up even after two years pushed him to make another call when he received an offer for admission from Cornell University in New York in August 2015. His strong academic credentials and keen interest in cricket, which helped him develop a player-analysis app CricDecode, had earned him a scholarship.

A New Chapter in the USA

As he finished graduate school, Netravalkar was offered a job by Oracle in San Francisco. Having moved to the country without his cricket kit, Netravalkar began playing recreational cricket on the weekends as a way to “fit in with the Indian community.”

In 2016, he represented the North West Region at the USACA National Championship. He kicked his efforts into high gear, seeking out as many opportunities to play as possible when the ICC lowered their minimum residency for eligibility from four years to three. A sensational spell for Southern California Cricket Association XI against a USA XI in a national-team warm-up match in the summer of 2017 impressed then-coach Pubudu Dassanayake. In January 2018, he made his List A debut for USA, taking 2 for 45 against Leeward Islands. It was as if life had come full circle.

Today, Netravalkar is among a few USA national team players who are regulars in Major League Cricket. Last year, he was the third-highest wicket-taker for Washington Freedom at the inaugural edition, which included a sensational 6 for 9 against a San Francisco Unicorns side boasting the likes of Matthew Wade, Marcus Stoinis, and Shadab Khan. He would soon bowl to Shadab again: the final ball of the Super Over on Thursday to clinch the win for USA.

Next week, Netravalkar will play against Rohit Sharma, his senior in Mumbai cricket at one point. He will also renew rivalries with Kohli, who he tussled with all those years ago. He won’t need to prove to anybody anymore what playing cricket means. He will have videos of him bowling to cricketing royalty to show for it.

Inspiration for Many

Saurabh Netravalkar’s story is an inspiration for many. He seamlessly blends his professional life at Oracle with his passion for cricket, embodying the dreams of many young aspirants. His dual success in both fields makes him a unique and admirable figure, proving that dedication and hard work can lead to success in multiple arenas. As he continues to excel in both his careers, Netravalkar remains a testament to the power of perseverance and the pursuit of passion. His journey from Mumbai to making headlines in the USA cricket scene is a remarkable tale of ambition, talent, and relentless effort.

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Author

  • Roshan Bhondekar

    Author, Awards Winning Filmmaker. Covering voice of people, opinions around Technology and Career development. On the mission to redefine Journalism.

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