United States' Saurabh Nethralvakar celebrates after their win in the...

United States' Saurabh Nethralvakar celebrates after their win in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup cricket match against Pakistan at the Grand Prairie Stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas, Thursday, June 6, 2024. Credit: AP/Tony Gutierrez

WESTBURY, N.Y. — At age 18, Saurabh Netravalkar's ambition was to play at the highest level for India. That never happened but at 32 he's got a chance to bowl against his country of birth at the Twenty20 World Cup.

The left-arm United States pacer will be watched nervously by a billion cricket fans back home in India when the teams meet Wednesday at Long Island's Nassau County International Stadium.

Indian broadcaster Star Sports is already promoting the game as a clash between Mumbai-born Netravalkar and another U.S. player of Indian heritage, Alabama-born Nosthush Kenjige, and India superstar batters Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.

Tournament favorite India won't be over-confident, having seen the U.S. pull off a major shock in world cricket when it beat Pakistan on Thursday.

Netravalkar did play at a junior level for India. He was among 15 players who represented India at the Under-19 World Cup in 2009-10 with Lokesh Rahul the most prominent name from that squad. Mayank Agarwal, Harshal Patel, Jaydev Unadkat and Mandeep Singh also went on to make international appearances and all five received Indian Premier League contracts.

Making it big like that in cricket is the ultimate dream for most Indian youngsters. But when it doesn’t pan out, most lack a backup plan.

Netravalkar had a plan.

Indian players celebrate after their win in the ICC Men's...

Indian players celebrate after their win in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Westbury, New York, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Credit: AP/Eduardo Munoz

He duly packed his bags for the U.S., where he did a master's degree in computer engineering at Cornell University. That was in 2015, when he didn’t even own a pair of cricket shoes.

A decade later, Netravalkar bowled his team to a Super Over win over former champions Pakistan.

As for Kenjige, he failed to get a contract in a local T20 league in Karnataka, India, and moved to the U.S. to pursue studies — and cricket of course. It paid off as Kenige took three wickets against Pakistan with his useful left-arm spin.

American batter Aaron Jones followed a slightly different trajectory – he played in Barbados alongside West Indies regulars Nicholas Pooran and Jason Holder before making his way north to lead the U.S. charge.

Indian players celebrate after their win in the ICC Men's...

Indian players celebrate after their win in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Westbury, New York, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Credit: AP/Eduardo Munoz

Jones lit up the tournament on opening day – he scored 94 off 40 balls as the U.S. chased down Canada’s 194 with ease.

“I always said that we could beat a top nation. I saw the way the boys are playing over the last month or so. This is not really surprising to me,” U.S. team manager Kerk Higgins told the BBC after the win against Pakistan.

India and the U.S. top Group A with two wins each.

The U.S. needs one win in its remaining two games — against India and Ireland — to confirm its spot in the Super Eight. That would be a milestone for the game in the country and fully justify cricket governing body ICC's punt to grant co-hosting rights to the U.S., whose national team is sponsored by India dairy corporation Amul.

India knows one more win will confirm its spot in the next round.

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