Nosthush Kenjige: 'We have a responsibility to do the right things all the time, even when nobody is looking'

The USA and MI New York spinner believes there's no substitute for hard work where he comes from

Nosthush Kenjige trapped Martin Guptill lbw in the first over, Los Angeles Knight Riders vs MI New York, Major League Cricket, Grand Prairie, July 16, 2023

Nosthush Kenjige finished with figures of 2 for 7 in three overs and also took two catches in the field against LA Knight Riders  •  Sportzpics

In the summer of 2016, a 25-year-old hospital equipment diagnostics technician showed up to an open tryout at a typically unkempt cricket outfield with an artificial jute matting wicket in the Bronx, New York. He was hoping somebody would notice him and give him a shot to go a little further on the pathway to play for the USA national team.
That goal was itself only a way of going from one amateur pursuit to another, since USACA was a year into their suspension and a year away from expulsion by the ICC, while the rest of the USA ecosystem was in limbo and the thought of a professional career was a mirage in the desert of the American cricket landscape.
Left-arm spinner Nosthush Kenjige might as well have been Moses on that day at Van Cortlandt Park, a stranger in a strange land. VCP is a place where cricket has been played for more than 100 years - mostly anonymously - at the Parade Ground between 244th and 252nd Streets just off the Henry Hudson Parkway. Though he was born in Alabama and was a US citizen, Kenjige had spent almost his entire life living in Karnataka and had only come back to the USA late in 2015, initially to Virginia before quickly moving north to New York City, and taking up a job inspecting hospital MRI and X-Ray machines. Barring the friends he quickly made after joining Columbia Cricket Club, nobody knew who he was, let alone how to pronounce his name.
Fast forward seven years, and Kenjige is taking the new ball in Grand Prairie Stadium for MI New York. With his third delivery of the night, he beats Martin Guptill's attempted sweep and lets out an excited and knowing plead for lbw before umpire Billy Taylor obliges with a finger raise. It's validation for all of the hard work that Kenjige has put in to get to this moment, going from an amateur club cricketer in New York to a centrally contracted player with the USA national team, and now also representing a professional T20 franchise tied to New York and the IPL.
"It's been unreal," Kenjige said in the post-match press conference after MI New York's 105-run demolition of LA Knight Riders, a match in which he finished with figures of 2 for 7 in three overs and also took two catches in the field. "To just get the tournament started, I know we were all eagerly looking forward to it for the last one or two years and to have such good teams and such good management teams which are running the teams, it just feels unreal. To have such good cricketers from all around the world playing right here in Dallas, this is all what we wanted from the USA cricketing point of view. So I couldn't have asked for anything more.
"It means a lot. I think there's a lot of responsibility on the local guys as well. Local and the other USA cricketers who are playing this tournament because a lot of kids look up to us and they see us practice. They look at us going through the fitness regimes and they want to play for the country and obviously for them to see us playing alongside the superstars of the game, it just motivates them even more. So I think it's a big responsibility for us to do the right things all the time, even when nobody's looking."
"To have such good cricketers from all around the world playing right here in Dallas, this is all what we wanted from the USA cricketing point of view"
Kenjige says the MLC still feels 'unreal'
That last line sums up the majority of Kenjige's cricket journey, literally and figuratively. The 32-year-old is the epitome for what it takes to make it grafting away in the USA cricket scene. After Kenjige had been identified as a genuine prospect at the 2016 VCP open tryout in New York, he took a five-wicket haul at a USA intra-squad trial two months later in Florida and the USA men's selection panel, at the time headed by former West Indies international Ricardo Powell, gave him a heads up that they were interested, but that he was currently ineligible to play for USA until he met some additional requirements.
Though he was a US citizen, the ICC eligibility rules at the time in 2016 stated that someone who had not been living in the USA for at least four years must demonstrate a commitment to the local community, which could be done through completing 100 days of coaching in the country. According to the ICC definition, 100 days equaled eight hours. So Kenjige would work a normal 9-5 pm shift going around hospitals in New York City inspecting x-ray machines, then drive to an indoor facility and do four hours of coaching on every weeknight from 6 to 10 pm.
On weekends, he would come to the same facility from 10 am until 6 pm to do more coaching with academy players. Before long the owners of the facility gave him his own key so that he could lock up the place after taking a few more hours to spot bowl in the nets on his own after everyone else had left. By February 2017, he had completed his 100 days of coaching and was deemed eligible to represent USA. He took another five-wicket haul at another USA national team intra-squad scrimmage in March 2017 in Houston, and was immediately picked to play for USA on a World Cricket League tour of Uganda.
He's been a fixture in the USA setup ever since, and has since migrated from New York to Dallas, leaving the world of hospital equipment inspecting behind in favor of a place where the weather and facilities are more conducive to year-round cricket playing and training. He is an active coach and mentor with the MLC-affiliated Mustangs Academy. But getting a chance to perform on the T20 franchise stage and running with it now puts Kenjige onto a different level.
"Nosh doing so well, it makes me so happy," LA Knight Riders bowler Ali Khan, Kenjige's USA team-mate, said. Ali himself has gone through a similar journey to Kenjige, starting off life in the USA as a mobile phone salesman while playing for USA in his free time as an unpaid amateur before finally striking it big in the summer of 2018. "He's been working hard, a really hard-working guy, and a lot of other players who are also working hard. They're just waiting for the opportunity and the opportunity is here now and it's up to them now to avail it with both hands and I'm sure the world will see a lot of talent coming up now.
"Just one innings or one spell can change your life because all these players are here. Just like I played with [Dwayne] Bravo in a local tournament and I did well and he picked me in other leagues. Then that changed my life. So just one opportunity, one good performance can change your life."
Kenjige was USA's leading wicket-taker at the recent ICC World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, one of the few bright spots on a team that finished winless and in last place. Though he has been in every 50-over squad for USA since his maiden call-up in 2017, he has not played in T20 cricket for USA since September 2018 at the ICC Americas Subregional T20 Qualifier in North Carolina. He was USA's leading wicket-taker in that event, with 12 wickets in six matches before being mysteriously left out of USA's squad for the ICC Americas T20 Regional Final in Bermuda in 2019, and has yet to make his official T20I debut for USA.
However, MI New York scouted him and rated him highly enough before the MLC Draft in March that they invested a fourth round draft pick in him at the $40,000 slot level. Mahela Jayawardene singled Kenjige out for special praise stating that, "We honestly thought that Nosh would probably go in round two or three" and that, "as soon as we had the opportunity, we grabbed him. He's one of the best left-arm spinners going around the US. He knows these conditions better than anyone else and he's a two or three phase bowler. He bowls in the powerplay, which is a massive thing for us, being a left-arm spinner, and a good character as well. He's not afraid of a challenge."
Whether or not having a stellar debut for MI New York on his resume will get him back into USA's 2024 T20 World Cup squad plans remains to be seen. For now, Kenjige is focused on continuing to do well with MI New York and will let the chips fall where they may when it comes to a possible recall in USA's T20 side.
"It's just about what I can do with the bat and the ball and the field," Kenjige said. "Apart from that in terms of words or sentences, it's not gonna go a long way. So I think it's best to just leave the performances on the field and I know at some point I will get an opportunity and I just need to be ready for it."

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna