Inside USA Cricket’s Incredibly Unlikely, Maximally Joyful World Cup Run

“It’s happening very fast,” said Saurabh Netravalkar, the Team USA cricket player with the world-famous LinkedIn profile. “I’m still digesting what’s happening right now.” The Americans had just lost a surprisingly close World Cup match to India on Long Island on Wednesday afternoon, a series of words which also probably will take some time to digest.

It’s happening very fast: Indian superstar Virat Kohli must have thought the same thing after Netravalkar, who moonlights as a cricketer when not working as a software engineer, got Kohli out on the very first ball he faced Wednesday. It was a blink-and-you-missed-it shocker that saw a man who is expected to return to his full-time job on Monday defeat the competition’s all-time leading run scorer and one of the most famous athletes on earth. (With 269 million Instagram followers, Kohli is just behind Taylor Swift on the official leaderboard.) Several fans in attendance held up signs calling Kohli a god; one held up a sign asking Netravalkar for a job reference.

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Netravalkar is the breakout star of the T20 Cricket World Cup, a biennial event that, this summer, is cohosted by the United States and the West Indies. He’s quickly become a Desi diaspora darling with a story of resilience and brilliance: A decade ago, he gave up on his cricket career when he left India for the US, enrolling in a master’s program at Cornell and then moving to the Bay Area to work at Oracle, where he’d eventually climb the ladder to serve as a principal member of the company’s technical staff.

Then he found out the United States had a cricket team. And then he tried out. And then he made the team. And then America won a bid to cohost the World Cup. And then the untested team, led by Netravalkar, beat Canada in its first-ever World Cup game. And then it beat Pakistan, among the world’s cricketing powers, and then non-cricket fans began to notice that the United States had a cricket team, and then the story of the software engineer beating the world’s best went viral on multiple continents. And then 30,000 people crammed into a hastily built temporary stadium on Long Island to watch Netravalkar and Team USA play against India, the favorites to win the tournament.

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I had expected the crowd to be about 95% India fans and 5% USA supporters, but that was an assumption foolishly based on the logic of every other sporting event I’d ever been to in my life, where people root for one team or the other. This was entirely different: A game between India and America primarily attended by Indian-Americans, who cheered for the country where they were born and for the country where they’ve built their lives. They didn’t seem to find much conflict between those two things. Every major event in the game sent every flag in the stands waving.

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