Saurabh Netravalkar and Harmeet Singh: two Mumbai boys living the American cricket dream

'We're standing up for the national anthem, just on the other side' (3:55)

USA's Saurabh Netravalkar and Harmeet Singh talk about meeting and chatting to their favourite Indian players, and which national anthem they're going to be singing in the match against India (3:55)

"I did not know. That's news to me."

Saurabh Netravalkar expresses surprise and delight on being told India head coach Rahul Dravid followed the Super Over he bowled against Pakistan while in the New York subway.

Netravalkar, the USA left-arm fast bowler, successfully defended 18 runs by a comfortable margin to help his team record the biggest shock of the T20 World Cup 2024. It was the biggest day in the history of the game for USA, who had gained entry to the 20-team tournament as co-hosts along with West Indies.

On the surface, Netravalkar, who led USA between 2018 and 2021, showed no nerves through the over, which stretched to eight deliveries because of a couple of wides. The only thing he was concerned with, he says, was if he had got right how many runs Pakistan needed off the final delivery.

"I actually confirmed two-three times with the umpire as to how many runs they need - six or seven," Netravalkar says over a Zoom call from New York two days after the win. "When he said seven, I gave a sigh of relief that I just have to prevent him from hitting a six." He sank to his knees in relief and joy after Shadab Khan squeezed out just a single.

"I felt very grateful and relieved that, yes, we came over the line, because each individual in the playing XI had made very important - small, yet very important -contributions throughout the game."

Was it was the most important over of his career? Netravalkar has no doubt.

"This was the closest game that I have played. And obviously the top-most quality team that we have played so far in our cricketing career. So yes, it was a really special game for each one of us and we will remember it for a long time."

While the US players, who beat arch-rivals Canada in the tournament opener on June 1, soaked up the aftermath of their second win of this World Cup, celebrations were also underway in the middle of night in the housing society in the northern Mumbai suburb of Malad where Netravalkar's parents live. While his mother Rama was in the US to watch the World Cup, Netravalkar's "building friends" joined his dad Naresh in the revelry. "We grew up playing in the building, playing rubber-ball cricket in the streets," he says. "They've all been part of this journey. So it's really special to them as well."

Netravalkar got a second crack at playing top-level cricket when he qualified for the US, where he arrived in 2015 after having abandoned the dream of playing for India earlier that year. He represented India Under-19s in 2010, and made his Ranji debut for Mumbai in 2013, but decided to study computer science at Cornell University in New York in 2015 after he failed to secure a permanent berth in the Mumbai side.

Netravalkar, who is now 32, developed his interest in cricket thanks to Naresh. Father and son avidly watched international matches together in the 1990s and early 2000s. Wasim Akram, Chaminda Vaas and Zaheer Khan were some of the fast bowlers Netravalkar imitated during those impressionable years.

In 2009, he was picked for a camp organised by the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore for potential future India players. There he remembers bowling to Dravid, still an active international at the time. Netravalkar says Dravid was approachable despite his stature, and happy to pass on tips. "I was a big fanboy of the '90s and 2000s cricket team. They are like my idols."

The following year Netravalkar was India's leading wicket-taker at the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand, which also featured the likes of Josh Hazlewood, Jason Holder and Ben Stokes. India's quarter-final loss to Pakistan meant the adulation Virat Kohli's team received for winning the championship two years before did not greet the class of 2010, and Netravalkar quietly slipped back into the domestic grind.


During most of the Pakistan innings, USA left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh fielded on the boundary. The Pakistan green enveloped the Grand Prairie stadium.

"It was very solid support for Pakistan throughout the game," Harmeet says on the same Zoom call after we finish the chat with Netravalkar. "A lot of green shirts."

He says that as underdogs USA were not expecting big support despite being the host country. With cricket not on the radar of the average American sports fan, the support mainly comes from the South Asian diaspora. "Till the time we actually made 18 runs in the Super Over, the Pakistani fans were really loud," Harmeet says. "But a lot of them live in the US, so I think you are pretty much able to convert a lot of Pakistani fans into US fans. From shouting 'Pakistan zindabad', by the end of the match I heard those change to 'USA, USA.'"

Harmeet moved to the US in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020, when he received an offer from USA Cricket, who back then were making a concerted effort to recruit overseas players to play for them soon after getting ODI status.

Harmeet decided he would take the plunge, and it proved a turning point for the talented left-arm spinner, whose career had stalled after a promising start. He has permanent-resident status in the US now, like Netravalkar. Also like Netravalkar, he comes from Mumbai. He played two U-19 World Cups for India - in 2010 and 2012. Among his contemporaries were Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav, who are currently playing for India in the World Cup.

Having watched Harmeet during the 2012 U-19 World Cup, former Australia captain Ian Chappell, in column on this site, urged India to blood the spinner soon so he didn't stagnate. It was prescient advice.

In the 2013 IPL, where he was part of Rajasthan Royals, Harmeet's name was dragged into the spot-fixing scandal. Although he was cleared by the BCCI subsequently, Harmeet struggled to find opportunities to play for Mumbai, his home side. He had stints playing for Jammu & Kashmir and Tripura in the Ranji Trophy, but derived no joy. So when USA Cricket called, he took the offer.

Four years on, with the USA now one win away from making the Super 8, Harmeet says that back then if you had told him he would be playing in a World Cup, he would never have believed it.

"When I made the move in 2020, mid-Covid, it was like investing in a property with no building [on it]. So I invested in just the land. And now we have structures. Now we have things coming up. The guys who came with me [team-mates from South Asia] - we all call ourselves early investors in USA cricket."

Like Netravalkar and the rest of his USA team-mates, Harmeet has played cricket mostly indoors over the years, worked day jobs (at times more than one, in the case of some players) and travelled around the country to play weekend cricket. All so they can be ready for big days like in Dallas against Pakistan last week.

"Personally, thinking about a World Cup, getting into a World Cup from a situation where all the club cricketers were practising indoors, and then beating Pakistan on a world stage, it is a big deal," Harmeet says. "Everybody's goal is to play the World Cup for your country and win it and everything, which [playing for India] couldn't happen for whatever reasons, but I'm trying to live my own dream in a different way."


Netravalkar and Harmeet are part of a group of five players in the US World Cup squad who were born in India. The others are US captain Monank Patel, the player of the match in the Pakistan game, who moved from Gujarat; former Delhi batter Milind Kumar, who took a brilliant catch to dismiss Iftikhar Ahmed in the Super Over; and Nisarg Patel, who too was born in Gujarat.

On Wednesday, Netravalkar and Harmeet get to play against the country they originally dreamed of playing for at the World Cup. Both men say it will be an emotional moment.

"It's been a very transformative journey for me, filled with ups and downs," says Netravalkar, who works for software giant Oracle in San Francisco. After the Pakistan win, a screen grab of his Slack out-of-office message was all over social media. It said he would be away from work until June 17, when the group phase of the World Cup ends. Netravalkar is not thinking ahead to whether he might have to extend his leave of absence in case USA make it to the Super 8s. His employers have been cooperative and understand he has stretched himself to fulfil his responsibilities at work, he says.

Netravalkar is a man of varied interests. Among other things, he plays the ukelele and sings along in Marathi. It was his "destiny", he says, to become eligible to play for USA; in 2018, soon after he moved, the ICC relaxed the norms for a player to be able to represent an Associate country from seven years as a resident to three. "But [destiny] comes only when you have the right intent and you put in those extra yards that things then start aligning for you," he says. "You can look back and connect the dots, but you can't look forward. So the best thing you can do is be in the present moment and do the best that you can."

Harmeet, who is 31, lives in Houston with his wife and two young kids. In an interview with the Indian Express before the World Cup, he spoke about the harrowing experience of watching his mother, Paramjit's, last rites on a screen after she died of Covid in 2021. Back in Mumbai when he was a teenager with stars in his eyes, she regularly accompanied him from Borivali in the north of the city to Shivaji Park Gymkhana in Dadar - a trip of about an hour from their home - on the local train so Harmeet could get the best coaching possible. He says he is living her dream too, playing the World Cup.

By Harmeet's reckoning, the first turning point in his career came when he watched Rohit Sharma play the 2006 U-19 World Cup. Harmeet had enrolled at Swami Vivekanand International School in Borivali, the school Rohit had studied in, to help launch his cricket career. "He was someone who gave us the hope that this [dream of playing for the country] is achievable. And he was going out there like a rock star and performing as well. He played a big role in India winning the 2007 [T20] World Cup. At that point I said I want to play the U-19 World Cup. And in 2010, I lived that dream, and then 2012 again."

In 2009 when Harmeet made his Ranji debut, Rohit was in the Mumbai side. Does Harmeet fancy opening the bowling against his former team-mate and Virat Kohli, who are favourable match-ups for left-arm spinners in the powerplay? "Looking forward to catching up. Hopefully we get him out early," Harmeet says, laughing.

Netravalkar wants to meet Rohit and Dravid, as well as Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah. He is also keen on meeting his good friend Suryakumar Yadav, his old captain at Mumbai, who put out a post on social media in appreciation of Netravalkar's Super Over performance against Pakistan: ""Tula maanla, bhau. [Respect, brother.] Very happy for you and your family back home."


For Harmeet, Netravalkar, and every Indian in the US squad, it will be a proud day to play the mother country in the World Cup.

Harmeet doesn't want to get carried away by the emotion. He believes USA can look Rohit's India in the eye. "I'm trying to think less about the India factor," he says. "They are one of the best in the world, but it's T20. It's a helpful wicket.

"I said this before the World Cup as well, especially for [playing against] India and Pakistan, that these morning games bring us big time into the game. In the morning you don't see a lot of 200-run games. If you bowl half-decent, you can get someone [out for] 150 or 160. And if you get that, any Associate team or anybody feels that they can chase it because a couple of big overs and you are run a ball. Like you saw New Zealand upset [by Afghanistan]. On reasonable, helpful wickets Associate teams can do a lot of wonders.

"The way we played the first two games, we've not worried about the results. We have been right up there on the body language. We have been right up there on the attitude. We have shown character. We have not panicked under pressure. We played the best of the best fast bowling now [Pakistan]. It just shows the world that US has so much potential and so much to offer."

Before the Pakistan match, you saw Netravalkar sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and while he will do so again on Wednesday, he says he will also sing the Indian anthem. "Oh, absolutely! I mean, I'm an Indian, so I would put it like, 'India is my janmabhoomi [birthplace] and this is my karmabhoomi [workplace]. So I respect both.

"It'll be nice for me, a great feeling for me."