USA Cricket: From 12th Man to hero vs Pakistan, Kenjige’s underdog spirit shines in USA’s most famous win

2024 Jun 07 by DreamCricket USA

Nosthush Kenjige is The Little Engine That Could for USA. Not only does he think he can, he goes out and does it when the team needs him most and he showed it again in USA's Super Over triumph over Pakistan. 

Photo credit: Peter Della Penna

By Peter Della Penna in Grand Prairie, Texas (Twitter/X @PeterDellaPenna)
While all the hoopla on Saturday was focused on Man of the Match Aaron Jones after USA’s greatest ever T20I batting display on the opening night of the T20 World Cup at Grand Prairie Stadium, life was a little different for USA left-arm spinner Nosthush Kenjige. 
Eight weeks earlier, Kenjige had been Player of the Match in USA’s first victory over Canada during their 4-0 series sweep in Prairie View, Texas outside of Houston. But when the team sheet was submitted for the first match of the T20 World Cup, Kenjige’s name wasn’t checked off in the starting XI. Even though Kenjige had won Player of the Match in the Canada bilateral opener, Harmeet Singh walked away with the Player of the Series Award, then followed it up with another Player of the Match performance in the first T20I win over Bangladesh a month later while Kenjige got a Thanks for Coming (Did Not Bat, Did Not Bowl). Despite being in USA’s top five in all-time wickets, having been a stalwart since making his debut for USA in 2017, Kenjige was no longer USA’s first-choice left-arm spinner by the time the T20 World Cup began and instead was now carrying the drinks. 
It can be a hard pill to swallow. But an outside observer would hardly notice that based on Kenjige’s body language. He’s been down this road before and takes it all in stride, keeping his head up with a beaming smile fully believing that things will work out in the end. It was less than a year ago while playing for 2023 MLC Champion MI New York that Kenjige took 2 for 7 in three overs – including Martin Guptill on the third ball of play – and also took two catches in a brilliant win over LA Knight Riders only to go straight to the bench to make room for superstar Rashid Khan fresh off the plane from a series playing for Afghanistan. 
But Kenjige made his way back into the lineup to bowl alongside Rashid for the rest of the MI New York title campaign. On Thursday, he was back in the USA XI and given the new ball in place of Ali Khan in an attempted surprise tactic to catch Pakistan off guard. He didn’t have the same first over success he had against Guptill, instead getting hit for six by Mohammad Rizwan. But in his next over he suckered Usman Khan, tossing it up and getting the Pakistan No. 3 batter to drive to Nitish Kumar at long-off for his first wicket of the day. 
“If you ask me personally, I think that’s one of my biggest challenges, to stay in the right frame of mind just to be ready as to when you’re called upon just to deliver,” Kenjige said after his figures of 3 for 30 in four overs played a key role in USA’s Super Over win over Pakistan. “It takes a lot of mental toughness too. It’s not easy sitting out. 
“Obviously we’re all here to play cricket. You sit out, you don’t want to take that baggage into the next game and you don’t want to show the disappointment to the team because whatever you’re doing, it’s for the team you’re doing. So obviously that’s the hardest part. But again, I’ve always said, I’ll just look after my cricket, just control what I can control, and then hopefully things just happen for me.”
One of the iconic images from MLC 2023 was Kenjige letting out a wild-eyed, clenched-fist roar after dismissing Guptill while Kieron Pollard jogged in toward him to celebrate with a grin. That same Kenjige roar was on display once again in the 13th over when he returned to get Shadab Khan scooping to fine leg before trapping Azam Khan first ball lbw to round out Khan scalp trio. 
Kenjige’s celebratory lbw howl is just about the only time fans get to the see the intensely competitive menace in Kenjige in its most visceral form. The fire burns deep within to prove to everyone that he belongs, but the other 99% of the time it can be hard to take Kenjige’s steely will to want to grind his opponents into the ground all that seriously because he can’t ever seem to wipe the smile off his face if not just burst into fits of laughter outright. He gets it from his dad, proud papa Pradeep. No wait, it’s his mom, very merry Shrutha. It was a smile-off duel on field after the match ended and they were invited on to join in for the celebrations, making their trip from Karnataka to see their son play in the World Cup all the more worthwhile. 
It’s never hard to find the Kenjige family section in the crowd at a USA match. They all have the most unfailingly jolly demeanor. On Saturday night against Canada, his partner Nivica and a slew of other members of the official Kenjige Family Fan Club were watching from along the railing on the south concourse at Grand Prairie Stadium all decked out in their #64 jerseys, smiling from ear to ear regardless of the fact that Kenjige wasn’t actually playing. 
That jovial Kenjige attitude was on full display again in a tense sequence of the USA chase. Despite being in such a strong position at 104 for 1 after 13 overs needing a further 56 off 42 balls, which combined with 103F temperatures produced an equation that sent half of the partisan Pakistan attendance of 5,720 heading to the Grand Prairie Stadium exits well before the thrilling denouement, USA looked like they might stuff it up as the last overs of the chase wound down. During the 18th over, the TV broadcast cameras panned to the USA dugout and showed Kenjige. Rather than looking like a man consumed with tension at the prospect of his side pulling off their greatest ever victory, Kenjige could see he was on the jumbotron on the east concourse and stuck his tongue out with another impossible to hide smile. If anyone else was feeling anxious, it would have put them at ease. 
Most of the plaudits after that MI New York win over LA Knight Riders in 2023 went to the official Player of the Match Tim David for his 48* off 21 balls. Likewise, Thursday’s Player of the Match award went to USA captain Monank Patel for his 50 off 38 balls to pilot USA’s chase. Meanwhile, social media’s focus was on Saurabh Netravalkar and his Clark Kent/Superman life as an Oracle employee by day before stepping into a phone booth and putting on his superhero red, white and blue cape to defend 18 runs in the Super Over to clinch USA’s victory. 
But the stats gurus at ESPNcricinfo calculated that Nosthush Kenjige was the real MVP of the match due to the impact of his three wickets. Netravalkar may be the engineer most cricket fans were talking about after his scene-stealing role taking over center stage in the final act of the show, but Kenjige is The Little Engine That Could who truly symbolizes the underdogs that wound up completing one of the most famous upsets in T20 World Cup history. 
Kenjige’s “I think I can” mentality is what made him put in all the sacrifices to have his World Cup moment. Like juggling a job as a hospital medical equipment technician and sandwiching it around four-hour roundtrip commutes from New York to New Jersey just so he could meet the 100 hours of coaching requirement stipulated by a ridiculous rule ICC at the time so he could qualify to play for USA in 2017, even though he was born in Alabama and is a US citizen so should have been able to by right. He’s since moved to Dallas to be at the focal point of US cricket training activities, and it’s no accident that he consistently scores highest in the USA squad’s regularly tracked fitness test results. 
Not only does Kenjige think he can, he actually goes out and does it when the team needs him most, and he showed it again in emphatic fashion against Pakistan. He might not be the most heralded name in the USA squad, and sometimes he’s not even in the match-day lineup. But when he is, nobody pours their heart and soul out for the Stars and Stripes more than Nosthush Kenjige. All the blood, sweat and happy tears were worth it on Thursday in Grand Prairie.