10 Indians who migrated to play cricket for Emerging nations

By Amit Shukla

India U19 World Cup winning captain Unmukt Chand is latest to confirms his interest to play cricket for emerging Nation.

With recent announcements of Indian cricketers like Smit Patel and Unmukt Chand taking retirement to try to qualify to play for the USA, let’s look at other cricketers who have gone down the same route. Both Unmukt Chand and Smit Patel played important roles in India’s U19 World Cup win in 2012, with Unmukt Chand hitting a match-winning 100 in the final against Australia and Smit Patel giving him good support with an unbeaten 62 in the final as India chased down 227 to beat Australia and win U19 World Cup for the 3rd time after previously winning it in 2000 and 2008.

Besides Unmukt Chand and Smit Patel, one of their teammates from U19 WC 2012, left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh also migrated to the USA earlier this year to qualify for the USA. Other Indian players besides the ones mentioned in the list to migrate to the USA include Sunny Sohal, who has already played for the USA in some matches and former Ranji cricketer Milind Kumar, who is yet to make his USA debut.

Indian cricketers migrating to play cricket for emerging nations isn’t a new or recent thing. It is something that has been happening since the early 1990s itself. In this article, we will look at 10 such cricketers who migrated to emerging nations and also got picked in their national sides.

1) Simi Singh (Ireland)

Probably the most well-known name in this list, Simranjeet Singh, more popularly known as Simi Singh, started in age-group cricket in Punjab having represented Punjab at U14, U15 and U17 levels but failed to get picked for Punjab U19 side and later on for the senior side despite having won best U14 cricketer award in a school’s competition.

Simi Singh later shifted to Ireland in 2005 to pursue Hotel Management and also continued playing cricket in Ireland. When IPL was announced in 2008, Simi Singh gave another attempt to get to play cricket in India as he gave trials for Kings XI Punjab in the inaugural IPL but failed to get picked for IPL and since then he aimed to qualify for the Ireland team. Simi Singh played for Malahide cricket club as a leg-spinning all-rounder and later got Irish citizenship in 2017. Simi Singh was then picked for Ireland and has given decent performances for Ireland taking 34 wickets in ODIs and 25 wickets in T20Is at averages of 25 and 22 respectively. He has also scored 543 runs in ODIs at an average of 24.68 and SR of 71.

Simi Singh

Simi Singh recently wrote his name in record books as he became the 1st ever cricketer to hit an ODI century batting at No.8 or lower, when he scored 100* against South Africa batting at No.8 at Malahide in July 2021.

2. Rahul Sharma (Hong Kong)

Cricket fans who would have followed Hong Kong Sixes in the 1990s and early 2000s might remember a cricketer by the name of Rahul Sharma who used to represent Hong Kong in that tournament. Rahul Sharma also played for Hong Kong in Asia Cup 2004 and captained Hong Kong in the 2 ODIs they played in Asia Cup 2004.

Rahul Sharma had represented Delhi in the Ranji Trophy in 1986 but he was dropped from the Delhi team and failed to get picked again and later shifted to Hong Kong and joined the Kowloon cricket club in Hong Kong to play cricket and got selected for the Hong Kong team in 1993 and represented them for 14 years, finally retiring in 2007 after WCL Division 3 tournament when he was 47 years old, as the most capped Hong Kong player having represented Hong Kong in 110 matches, mostly without List A status and scored more than 5000 runs. He also played in all 9 Hong Kong Sixes tournaments from 1994 to 2006.

Rahul Sharma also played 13 matches for Hong Kong in World Cup qualifiers, then known as ICC Trophy, where he scored 401 runs at an average of 30.84.

3. Shaukat Dukanwala (UAE)

With the World Cup being expanded from 9 teams to 12 teams as ICC looked to include more associates. UAE, like other associates, also aimed to qualify for the 1996 World Cup. For this, UAE took full advantage of the 4-year rule and signed up many cricketers from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka who were involved in domestic cricket in those countries. One such Indian cricketer was Shaukat Dukanwala.

Shaukat Dukanwala played FC cricket for Gujarat in the 1980s with little success as he took 27 wickets in 16 FC matches at an average of 45 and was also a decent lower-order batsman too and later migrated to UAE in the early 1990s. Shaukat Dukanwala then wrote his name in record books by becoming the first-ever cricketer from an associate nation to take a 5 wicket haul in ODIs. In the match against the Netherlands in the 1996 World Cup, which was also the first-ever official ODI between 2 associate nations, Shaukat Dukanwala, returned with figures of 5/29, to help UAE register their first-ever win in ODIs.

4. Riaz Poonawala (UAE)

Another Indian cricketer who shifted to UAE in the early 1990s and qualified for them under the 4-year rule was Riaz Poonawala. While Riaz Poonawala failed to get picked for the 1996 World Cup, he did get his chance to play ODIs for UAE in the 1994 Australasia Cup, where UAE played their first-ever official ODIs to try and prepare for the 1996 World Cup.

Riaz Poonawala, had a decent career in domestic cricket with Maharashtra from 1982 to 1987, scoring 1825 in 28 FC matches at a decent average of 40.55 before migrating to UAE.

In UAE’s first-ever official ODI against India in the 1994 Australasia Cup, Riaz Poonawala showed glimpses of his talent as he scored 22 off just 14 balls with 5 boundaries. Poonawala made 22 in the next match against Pakistan and later missed out on selection for the 1996 World cup and didn’t play for UAE afterwards.

5. Munish Ansari (Oman)

Munish Ansari, also nicknamed as Sehore Express, is a pace bowler from Sehore, Madhya Pradesh and someone who could consider himself unlucky as he was never picked for Madhya Pradesh in Ranji Trophy despite consistently doing well in first division cricket. Munish Ansari could bowl at over 140kph and was a product of MRF pace academy in India.

Munish Ansari finally got a chance in 2006, when he was picked by the national selectors to play for Cricket Club of India President’s XI in a warm-up match against the touring England team. Munish Ansari took the opportunity with both hands as he took the wickets of Kevin Pietersen in the 1st innings and of Andrew Flintoff in the 2nd innings but even then he continued to get ignored by Madhya Pradesh selectors and could never play for his state team.

Later on, Munish Ansari migrated to Oman and represented them in the T20 World Cup in 2016. Overall, Munish Ansari played 11 T20I matches for Oman, picking up 8 wickets with a best of 3/37 against Ireland, which helped Oman beat Ireland in the T20 World Cup for their most famous win in international cricket.

6. Balaji Rao (Canada)

Leg spinner Balaji Rao had a decent career as an Indian cricketer having played for India U19 and even India A team during his playing days in India but he failed to cut the national team. Balaji Rao played for India A against England A in 1995 which had players like VVS Laxman and Amol Muzumdar and returned with figures of 2/49 and 5/56 in the match.

Balaji Rao was even selected for the South Zone team for the Deodhar Trophy and played a key role in South Zone becoming joint winners in 2000 as he took 4/44 in the semis and then showed his batting abilities in the final with 31* off 20 balls to tie the match against Central Zone in the final which led to both teams being declared joint winners.

After a breakthrough season in 2000/01, Balaji Rao’s performances declined in the coming years and he migrated to Canada. He made his international debut for Canada in 2008 and is mostly remembered for the match against Pakistan in the 2011 World cup where he took 2/50 as Pakistan collapsed to 184 all out and he later was sledging Umar Gul while batting in that match.

Overall Balaji Rao played 33 FC matches in India, taking 94 wickets at an average of 30, 12 wickets in 10 ODIs for Canada at an average of 37 and 42 wickets in 36 List A matches at an average of 31 which included List A matches in Indian domestics as well as the ODIs and other matches he played for Canada.

7. Saurabh Nethravalkar (USA)

Saurabh Nethravalkar, who is currently the captain of the USA cricket team, had also represented India U19 in the U19 World Cup in 2010 which included players like KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Jaydev Unadkat as his teammates. Even Harmeet Singh who has also migrated to the USA was his teammate there.

At the U19 World cup in 2010, Saurabh Nethravalkar took 9 wickets in 6 matches at an average of 17 and he was in good form at the U19 level. After the U19 World Cup, Saurabh Nethravalkar took a break from cricket to complete his engineering and originally went as a software engineer to the USA. Before that, he returned to cricket in 2013 where he represented Mumbai in the 2013/14 Ranji Trophy and made his FC debut against Karnataka taking 3 wickets.

Saurabh Nethravalkar continued his cricket after arriving in the USA and made it to the USA’s national team and captained them from 2018. Saurabh Nethravalkar along with Ali Khan forms a good pace bowling attack for the USA at the associate level. Saurabh Nethravalkar has taken 19 wickets in 13 ODIs for the USA with a best of 5/32. Besides this, Saurabh Nethravalkar has also played for Guyana Amazon Warriors in CPL.

8. Ibrahim Khaleel (USA)

Ibrahim Khaleel is mostly remembered for having played in the ICL, a rebel league that existed in 2007 and 2008. Ibrahim Khaleel was a part of the Hyderabad Heroes team which won ICL in 2008 and also played for the ICL India team which won the ICL World series.

After ICL was shut down, BCCI offered amnesty to ICL players to return to domestic cricket from 2009 and Ibrahim Khaleel returned to domestic cricket. In the Ranji Trophy match against Assam in 2011, Ibrahim Khaleel wrote his name in the record books, as he made the record for most dismissals by a wicket-keeper in an FC match with 14 dismissals, including 11 catches and 3 stumpings.

Ibrahim Khaleel played domestic cricket in India till 2015 and then migrated to the USA and took USA citizenship. He represented the USA in 2017 and 2018 in WCL Divisional tournaments and even captained the USA in the WT20 Americas region qualifiers in 2018 before Saurabh Nethravalkar took over the captaincy.

Ibrahim Khaleel was mostly known for his glovework more than his batting. He scored 2158 runs in 57 FC matches at an average of 29 and affected 211 dismissals including 186 catches and 25 stumpings. In 47 List A matches, he scored 818 runs at an average of 22 and affected 76 dismissals with 59 catches and 17 stumpings.

9. Timil Patel (USA)

Timil Patel played for India U19 in 2002 and represented Gujarat in domestic cricket as a spin-bowling all-rounder. He played 38 FC matches for Gujarat from 2002-2009, scoring 1169 runs at an average of 23 and picked up 72 wickets at an average of 38. Timil Patel also represented the Rest of India in the Irani Trophy in 2002 where he made his FC debut.

Timil Patel migrated to the USA and has been part of their squad for a while. Playing for the USA, he has taken 6 wickets in 7 ODIs at an average of 25 and 12 wickets in 7 T20Is at an average of 13. Besides this, he was the leading wicket-taker for the USA in ICC WCL Division 3 tournament in 2018 with 11 wickets in 5 matches. He was also included in the St Lucia Zouks franchise in the CPL.

10. Dinesh Nakrani (Uganda)

Dinesh Nakrani originally started off representing Saurashtra and played for Saurashtra in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2013/14 before he migrated to Uganda whom he has represented since 2018.

Dinesh Nakrani was the leading run-getter in the WT20 Africa region qualifiers in 2018 with 320 runs in 6 matches where he also scored 102* off 50 balls to help Uganda beat Kenya.

Dinesh Nakrani performed well for Uganda in Challenge League B in 2019 scoring 199 runs in 5 matches at an average of 99.5 and with Dinesh Nakrani’s inclusion, Uganda has been able to strengthen their batting in recent years which has also helped them top the Challenge League B after the 1st round.

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