The flight from Mumbai to South Africa for India’s Under-19 cricketers was long and tiring. The trek to the final, where they will meet Australia on Sunday in a repeat of the senior men’s World Cup final, was also tough. Their real journey, though, was several years in the making. Many of these young cricketers left the comforts of their hometown, and the warmth of their relatives and friends, so that they could realise their cricketing dreams.
Uday Saharan, the captain, was only 12 when he shifted from his home in Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar district to Punjab’s Fazilka district, 80 km away, so that he could get better training facilities. Vice captain Saumy Pandey and his parents moved from Bharatpur in Madhya Pradesh’s Sidhi district to a rented accommodation in Rewa, 40 km away, so that Saumy could stay close to his cricketing academy. Arshin Kulkarni made the 250-km journey from Solapur to Pune. Pacer Raj Limbani undertook a 550-km journey from Dayapar, a village near the Pakistan border in Rann of Kutch, to Baroda.
Behind all of them has been a supportive family or a cricket tragic father, nursing their own shattered cricketing dreams. Saharan’s father, Sanjeev, was called the Gavaskar of Sri Ganganagar. Unable to forge a cricketing career, he cleared BCCI’s Level 1 coaching and started his academy. Even before Saharan was born, he had made up his mind that his son would become a cricketer.
“After I cleared the ayurvedic exam, I got to the Udaipur centre. My coach was Arjun Naidu, a legend for Rajasthan and Rajputana. Till his last breath, he used to tell me that if I had gone to Jaipur, I would have played the Ranji Trophy. It wasn’t to be. But I made sure my son would not meet the same fate as me,” he says.
Sometimes, he had to show tough love. The first time he dropped off Uday, then 12, in Mohali for a U14 camp, he got a call from his son saying he couldn’t stay alone. “For the next few days, I kept making excuses that I would visit him tomorrow. I never did. I used to argue with my wife, this is not the reason I sent him away at such a young age,” he tells The Sunday Express.
Similarly, Kulkarni’s father Atul, a paediatrician who has a hospital in Solapur, had no qualms in relocating to Pune so that his son could live the cricketing dream that he could not. “We all are doctors in our family. I used to play cricket and so did Arshin’s grandfather. When I saw the spark in him, I decided straight away that I would give him the best facilities. By god’s grace, I could afford it,” says Atul Kulkarni, who is in South Africa.
Limbani’s father was not a cricket nut, but Vasantbhai Patel was sick of seeing his son battling the harsh climate. The passion in his son’s eyes forced him to pack Limbani off to Baroda, where the children of their family used to go for studies. “I have seen him battling heat strokes in summers. Playing cricket in 50 degrees Celsius is not easy. He would never listen even if we tried to stop him. Then I decided to send him to Baroda, where my elder brother Manilal Patel was posted. The madness has taken him so far and as a parent, I had only backed his passion,” says Patel, a farmer.
Behind the rise of each of these cricketers has been their family.
In Beed, Sanjay Dhas, who named his son after Sachin Tendulkar, took a loan to build six turf wickets in Beed, the famine-torn town in Maharashtra, so that his son could face 1,000 to 1,500 balls every day. “People told me that I should move him to Pune. I said no, I will provide him with the best facility in Beed only,” says Dhas, who works in the Health Department in the Maharashtra government.
Opening batsman Adarsh Singh’s father Narendra Kumar Singh shifted their base to Kanpur from Jaunpur to give his children a good education. During the lockdown, he lost his job in Mumbai and the family had no option but to move back to their village. But Singh sold a plot so that his son could stay back and achieve his dream.
The role of Naushad Khan, the father of Musheer and the older Sarfaraz, is also well known. “Maine pehle hi bol diya tha unko acchha baap chahiye ya acchha coach (I asked them both at a very early age whether they want a father or a good coach),” he reminisces.
These youngsters’ journeys have led to the final in Benoni, South Africa. But where one journey ends, another begins — into the hard world of competitive international cricket.