CPL provides shot at redemption for USA quartet

Saurabh Netravalkar leaps into his delivery stride at USA trials Peter Della Penna

When Ibrahim Khaleel, Sunny Sohal, Saurabh Netravalkar and Jaskaran Malhotra left India to come to the USA, the chances of any of them playing T20 franchise cricket again were minuscule. But all four have now bucked the odds to be drafted in Caribbean Premier League franchises for the first time, joining fellow USA team-mates and CPL veterans Steven Taylor and Elmore Hutchinson for the 2018 tournament.

"It was a pleasant surprise for me," Netravalkar told ESPNcricinfo during the ongoing USA Cricket Combines taking place at various regional sides this spring. "I had no idea that people were considering me but that's a great personal boost for me saying that yes I do belong to this level and I can excel there.

"When I went into the [West Indies' domestic 50-over] tournament I was just looking to stick to my strengths. The captain and coach supported me and gave me a good fixed role. That gave me a boost of confidence and I implemented it well. Now we have a few months to work on them before we play again, things like bowling in the slog overs, crunch situations and breaking partnerships."

Netravalkar had been India's junior cricketer of the year in 2010 after being the leading wicket-taker for the team in the Under-19 World Cup. But when the IPL was transforming the pay packets of cricketers in India and around the world, Netravalkar opted to focus on studies, eventually leaving to New York to pursue a graduate degree at Cornell University.

However, his cricket career was relaunched in earnest through the west coast club cricket scene after moving to California to take up a job with Oracle in the Silicon Valley. Thanks in part to revised ICC eligibility guidelines that lowered the threshold from four years to three for players to debut for their adopted country, Netravalkar was fast-tracked into the USA squad for the Cricket West Indies Regional Super50 tournament this January and February.

After impressing in the Regional Super50 with incredible consistency - in all but one of his eight matches he had an economy rate under 5 - to claim a joint team-best 13 wickets, Guyana Amazon Warriors scooped him with their mandatory ICC Americas pick. As exciting as the news was for him, it created a pickle with his primary job at Oracle.

Netravalkar had initially made himself unavailable for the CPL draft after having exhausted most of his paid time to play in the Super50. The remaining vacation time he had intended to use for USA's remaining commitments scheduled for the second half of 2018: the ICC Americas T20 World Cup Qualifier and WCL Division Three.

USA Cricket issued a press release 24 hours after the draft saying Netravalkar was unavailable and a replacement would be announced in due course. But with the help of USA coach Pubudu Dassanayake and Project USA ICC administrator Wade Edwards, Netravalkar was able to come to an arrangement with his bosses at Oracle that will allow him to be available for the CPL and USA.

"Coach and Wade supported a lot," Netravalkar said."They said it will be a great opportunity for you because it will be a great learning curve for me if I go there. It will help me be in the groove and get my game one level up again, which will be beneficial for US cricket. I explained to my work that it's kind of a national duty. They understood that it's a good personal opportunity and finally they agreed to support me so I'm really grateful for that."

The support for the other three Indian immigrants from USA Cricket has been just as well received on their road back to playing in front of full houses on TV. Sohal had a promising season for Deccan Chargers in 2011, scoring 249 runs, but Parthiv Patel's arrival the following year effectively ended his IPL career before he opted to move to the Washington, D.C. where he earned a quick reputation in club cricket as a heavy scorer in private T20 tournaments. He had a poor start for USA, bagging ducks in his first two innings in Antigua before finishing with two half-centuries to earn selection from Barbados Tridents.

Malhotra never made it past Himachal Pradesh's age-group teams before migrating to the USA in the middle of this decade. He wound up marrying an Indian-American from New York before the couple moved to Texas so he could pursue more serious cricket playing and coaching opportunities there. The commitment paid off when he led USA in scoring at the Super50 with 277 runs and was picked by St Lucia Stars.

Khaleel was earlier part of the Indian Cricket League and after the league folded, the BCCI's amnesty policy opened the door for him to latch on to Mumbai Indians wider squad without ever taking the field. By the end of the 2015 Ranji season for Hyderabad, he was married to an Indian-American and migrated to Wisconsin.

Once Khaleel got his USA citizenship in April 2017, he was immediately picked in the squad for WCL Division Three in Uganda. Despite the team's failure to gain promotion on the pathway towards 2019 World Cup qualification, Khaleel was the team's leading scorer and by the end of the summer he had been named USA captain after Steven Taylor left to focus on professional opportunities in Jamaica. He made an immediate mark with his leadership, helping USA break a 26-year drought against Canada to win back the Auty Cup.

He was subsequently selected by St Kitts & Nevis Patriots and he followed that up by becoming one of three USA-based players to get picked up in the Global T20 Canada draft, going to Montreal Tigers. Three years after he thought his career was over, a whole new chapter is just beginning for Khaleel.

"I feel like the hard work I did in India is paying off now," Khaleel said. "It's better late than never so I'm really happy to be getting these opportunities to play. I'm just really happy and looking forward to the tournament."