Monday, July 15, 2024

T20 World Cup: Charged by Asian tilt, USA break barriers in inspiring run

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Co-hosts USA are on the cusp of making the Super Eight stage of the T20 World Cup, at the expense of Pakistan.
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Weather permitting, United States of America can saunter into the Super Eight stage in their maiden appearance at the T20 World Cup on Friday at the Central Broward Park & Broward County Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. Up against the co-hosts are an Ireland team short on confidence after successive losses to India and Canada.

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The weather may not be too kind – it’s been raining cats and dogs in this part of the country, Tuesday’s encounter between
Sri Lanka and Nepal was washed out without a ball being bowled
, and the forecast isn’t too encouraging for the rest of the week – but that will suit the Americans just fine. After all, they need just one point to put themselves beyond the reach of last edition’s finalists Pakistan, who
they edged out in a Super Over in Dallas
last week. No one, therefore, can say that the Americans don’t deserve their place among the top-eight in the competition.

The architect of the Super Over win was a 32-year-old software engineer from Mumbai, a left-arm pacer who moved to the US in 2015 to further his professional prospects after resigning himself to the fact that he wouldn’t quite crack it in India’s ultra-competitive structure. At the time,
Saurabh Netravalkar
might have reconciled to the fact that his only tilt at international cricket would be at the U-19 level – he represented India in the Junior World Cup in New Zealand, when KL Rahul was the captain.

Former India U-19 player Saurabh Netralvakar bowled the crucial Super Over against Pakistan and took two early wickets against India in the T20 World Cup. AP

Astonishingly, Netravalkar was given a second shot at competitive cricket in 2019, when he made his debut for United States in both white-ball formats. With the International Cricket Council deciding to take the World Cup to these shores ahead of the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028 when cricket will make a re-entry into the quadrennial extravaganza, Netravalkar was presented with the unexpected opportunity of portraying his skills on the highest stage in his adopted home.

It’s been a tournament to savour for the lad from Borivali. After easily, and nervelessly, defending 18 in the Super Over – the more experienced Pakistani pacer Mohammad Amir had conceded seven runs through wides in that same decider – Netravalkar enhanced his reputation with a
sensational opening burst against India
in New York. It’s not often that a bowler from outside the established nations can make a dent in the Indian top order. But trusting his skills and feeding off the assistance from the
Nassau County International Cricket Stadium
surface, he nicked off Virat Kohli off with his second ball with India chasing 111 for victory, then had Rohit Sharma, his Borivali mate, caught off the leading edge in his second over. At 10 for two and then 39 for three, India were rocked until Netravalkar’s fellow Mumbaikars
Suryakumar Yadav and Shivam Dube prevented an upset
of the most gargantuan proportions.

Read |
Despite wins, India have batting concerns to fix

United States’ Aaron Jones celebrates after scoring the winning runs against Canada. AP

Netravalkar has been the most visible face of the US bowling attack – like Queens-born Aaron Jones has been of the batting group – but the man who took that superb catch to dismiss Rohit hasn’t been in the shadows either. Harmeet Singh, the left-arm spinner, was part of the Unmukt Chand-led side that won the Under-19 World Cup in Australia in 2012 and was identified by Australian great Ian Chappell as a talent that deserved to be fast-tracked into Test cricket. Harmeet’s career didn’t quite pan out along expected lines but given a second bite at the cherry, like Netravalkar, he is making the most of this opportunity.

Monank Singh, also of Indian origin, is the captain of the team, Nitish Kumar is a wonderful batter who showcased his skills against the Indians and Jasdeep Singh is a tidy medium-pacer who is honest and persevering. The quintet form the backbone of the team, with Ali Khan, the pacer born in Attock in Pakistani Punjab, also weighing in.

Clearly, there is an Asian tilt to the American dream right now, with homegrown talent understandably not yet up to scratch. Jones, the exciting right-hander who
smashed 10 sixes in the tournament opener against Canada
, learned his ropes in Barbados while the
US team
also boasts Corey Anderson, the former New Zealand all-rounder who smashed a 36-ball ODI ton against the West Indies more than a decade ago.

Read | 
A look at the Indian-origin players in USA cricket team

These intrepid, not-so-young men have forced reputed media houses who didn’t give two hoots about cricket to sit up and take notice. They might not get the scorelines right – India did not defeat Pakistan 119 to 113, for instance – but soon, one suspects, they will start investing more personnel and resources into the sport if the Americans build on this whirlwind run.

Stuart Law, a former Australian World Cupper, is the national coach, and he has a ready explanation for why his wards have
defeated Bangladesh
and Pakistan this year and ran India close.

“We sat down and asked the players what sort of role they want,” he observed. ”I’m not here to tell them how to play, I’m here to help them play the way they want to play. They know that I’ve got their back if it doesn’t quite work their way. Good relationships are built on trust. There’s a lot of trust in that dressing room towards me and what I’m trying to achieve with the players. They want to be the best they can be. My job is to get them to play the best cricket they can. This (defeat to India) is our second loss in 11 games. That’s something to be pretty proud of.”

The American public is only gradually warming to its national side, and not as generously or readily as the Asian diaspora here. Monank and his band of warriors are out to change that. No one in their right mind will bet against them succeeding.

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