He wouldn’t change his chair. He would try to maintain the same posture, too, not even moving a leg. But if wickets weren’t falling, he would stand for a while.
Over the last three days, in a deserted makeshift stand, his mobile on silent mode, Kuldeep Bishnoi remained the lone Haryana fan, shouting words of encouragement and advice. He is the son of former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal, and headed the Haryana Janhit Congress until it merged with the Congress this year. But, at the Moti Baug ground in Baroda, the venue for the Ranji Trophy quarter-final between Haryana and Jharkhand, Bishnoi was the stereotypical “cricket dad”.
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“Bhai, wicket lo, arrey aise mat karo, usko bowling do. Isko upar se marna chahiye tha, mein khelta tha toh upar se hi maarta tha (Take a wicket, don’t do that, give him the ball. This one should have been hit over the top, I would have hit it over).”
In the end, Haryana failed to stop Jharkhand from marching into the semi-finals, losing by five wickets on Monday. But Bishnoi’s son Chaitanya emerged as his team’s topscorer in the second innings with a half-century.
Bishnoi says he went for three Ranji games involving Haryana this year, and not just because his son was in the team. Cricket has always been his “first love”, he says.
“My coach was Yograj Singh (the father of Yuvraj Singh). I played decent cricket but had no other option but to carry on my father’s political legacy. My two sons and a daughter have a choice. It’s their choice, but I don’t want them to enter politics. Politics has become dirty now,” he says.
Chaitanya scored 41 and 52 against Jharkhand. And Bishnoi cancelled and re-booked his ticket in the hope that his son would play a marathon innings. That didn’t happen, however, as a rash shot led to Chaitanya being caught at long-off in the second innings.
“Watching my son bat gives me more tension than any election result,” admits the two-time MP and current MLA.
Ask whether people gossip about him influencing his son’s selection, and he retorts: “Sochte honge (They must be thinking)… but his performance speaks about his game. If he wasn’t good, how would he have played for Delhi’s under-16 and under-19 teams? Nakli hota toh pehle ball pe out ho jata, ji (If he was a fake, he would have been out first ball).”
Says Bishnoi: “(Former BCCI chief) Ranbir Singh Mahendra had seen my son bat in England for Durham, where he scored 168, and picked him from there. Many people come to me hoping that I will recommend their children’s selection. As a politician, I can’t say no. Many a time, I have called Anirudh (Chaudhary, secretary of the Haryana Cricket Association) to see that no injustice is done.”
At the ground, Bishnoi is restless, even avoiding a visit to the washroom. He feels that if he takes his eyes off the pitch, a Haryana wicket would fall. He finally relents but by the time he is back, two wickets had fallen. “Nahin jana chahiye tha (I shouldn’t have gone),” he says, sounding apologetic.
Then there are times when the phone keeps ringing, but Bishnoi is in no mood to answer calls when his son is batting. “Yeh upar se marna chahiye tha. Oye-hoye, badhiya shot tha yeh (This should have been hit over the top… that was a great shot),” he shouts.
Chaitanya says he is used to Bishnoi’s presence at the ground since childhood. After all, it was his father who introduced him to cricket. “He has been a great source of strength for me. People ask me whether I will join politics and I tell them that I don’t have the skills to become a politician. But yes, I have the skills to become a cricketer or do well in academics, so I will try in those,” he says.
This time, Bishnoi had to leave with the game yet to be decided and Haryana still in with a chance to enter the last four. And as he left, he smiled at the man serving tea, saying, “Bhai, dua karna Haryana team ke liye (Brother, pray for the Haryana team).” Of course, little did he know then, that by the time he would reach Delhi, the game and his son’s Ranji campaign would be over.