USA celebration
USA’s players celebrate after winning the Group A game against Pakistan in a Super Over during the ICC Men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 in Grand Prairie, Texas, on June 6, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

An Associate nation’s win over a cricketing elite is always a stunning result simply because of the gulf in standards. There have been shocks galore. The Netherlands have made it a habit to beat heavyweights South Africa in World Cups. Despite that, the USA’s win over Pakistan in the T20 Cricket World Cup is indeed historic.

The contrast between the sides is stark.

The USA, ranked 18th in the world behind the UAE and Nepal, is making its T20 World Cup debut. Although American cricket traces back to the 1700s, the USA played its first T20 International only in 2019. The game is currently played by the Asian diaspora, and the players are amateurs — Thursday’s hero Saurabh Netravalkar is a software engineer with Oracle.

Pakistan are one of the 12 full members of the International Cricket Council, which has 93 Associates, including the USA. A cricketing superpower, Pakistan won the T20 World Cup in 2009 and were finalists in 2022. Their players are professionals, many are regulars in the T20 franchise circuit.

How did the USA win

Now, imagine the odds of a USA win. How did they do it? They are co-hosts of the biennial event, but Pakistan had more crowd support at the Grand Prairie Stadium in Dallas, Texas. But more crowd support means more pressure. That’s what USA captain Monank Patel said after his team won in the nervy Super Over (the teams were level on 159 after 20 overs).

Pressure is common in cricket, and Pakistan must have overcome it numerous times. Maybe, but cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties. Nothing is more glorious than a victory for the underdogs. Which is why the USA win is one to celebrate.

It will help spread cricket in America. “Beating Pakistan in the World Cup is going to open many doors for us,” Monank said. “Hosting the World Cup in the USA and performing here as a team, it helps us to grow the cricket in the USA,” he added.

If cricket has to grow in the US, it has to go mainstream. Just like baseball, basketball, ice hockey and American football. It should become part of school sports activities. Until then, the game will be limited to players who trace their roots to cricket-playing countries.

USA players and their cricket dreams

The key players in USA’s victories hail from the subcontinent, and many were fulfilling a childhood dream. Take a look at Netravalkar, 32, the left-arm quick who bowled the nerve-wracking Super Over. As part of the Indian team for the 2009 Under-19 World Cup, he shared the dressing room with KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, and Harshal Patel and emerged as India’s highest wicket-taker in the competition.

When big-time cricket eluded him, he packed his bags and enrolled at Cornell University in New York before joining Oracle upon graduation. But his passion for cricket continued to burn bright, and he soon bowled his way into the USA squad.

Nitish Kumar, who lashed the last-ball boundary that pushed the match into Super Over, was born in Canada. As a 16-year-old, he represented them in the 2011 ODI World Cup — one of the youngest to play in the tournament. The 30-year-old was forced to move to the US in 2020 to pursue cricket when Toronto went into an extended lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. His cricket ambitions are well and truly alive.

Nosthush Kenjige, who scalped three with his left-arm spin in the inaugural game against Canada, was born in Auburn, Alabama, where his father worked as an agricultural researcher at Tuskegee University. After his family moved back to Chikkamagaluru in Karnataka, Kenjige played university and club cricket in Bengaluru. He returned to the US in 2015 to work as a hospital technician and set about qualifying to represent his country of birth.

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Monank, the captain, won the Player of the Match award with the half-century that set up the game for the USA. He had been spending much of his time dreaming of cricket and tossing noodles in woks at Teriyaki Madness, his restaurant in New Jersey.

Growing up in Anand, near Ahmedabad, Monank was a cricket sensation in Gujarat but failed to make the India Under-19 grade. Disenchanted, he flew to the US and became a restaurateur. But his cricketing instincts resurfaced, thrusting him into the USA captaincy.

Under his leadership, USA cricket bloomed. The World Cup is the ultimate dream for cricketers. Monank and his teammates are living it. A place in the Super 8s may not be a pipedream.