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Coach Devang Desai didn’t give his daughter’s hand to his ward Samit Gohel because of the latter’s cricketing talent. He agreed to the marriage because “Samit is a fantastic human being”. Desai has been imparting to Samit every bit of his cricketing knowledge for the last 14 years, but he was unaware of the courtship via Facebook.
Desai eloquently narrates a short, sweet story. “My daughter (Sikha) studied hotel management before doing an MBA in HR. About two years ago, a marriage proposal came from Australia and the boy was also a hotel management graduate. I sought Sikha’s consent but she said marriage was not on her mind. I gave her two days to make up her mind and then, as I asked about it, she said, ‘I like someone. You know him. He’s a cricketer’. I was a bit taken aback. Then she said, ‘He is Samit’. I readily agreed. There was no question of saying no,” Desai recounted.
Today, he was oozing with pride as his son-in-law walked into cricket fairytales. By scoring 359 not out and carrying the bat against Orissa at Jaipur on Tuesday, Samit bettered a 117-year-old world record for highest unbeaten individual score by an opener. Bobby Abel of Surrey had a stranglehold on it since 1899, when he made 357 not out against Somerset. He also went past WG Grace’s 344 in 1876.
BB Nimbalkar is the only other Indian batsman who had scored more in first-class cricket and remained unbeaten. The Maharashtra batsman had made 443 not out against Kathiawar in a Ranji Trophy match in 1948-49. Vijay Merchant had posted 359 not out (not as an opening batsman) for Bombay against Maharashtra five seasons previously. Sanjay Manjrekar and MV Sridhar had their highest first-class scores as 377 and 366 respectively but both perished.
On the world scene, Samit now rubs shoulders with Brian Lara and Don Bradman; two giants of the game; who scored more without being conquered. Lara’s 501 not out came for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994, while the incomparable Don hammered 452 for New South Wales against Queensland in 1929-30.
Samit is calm after his world record but his better half is excited. “I just tried to stay there and play the ball on merit. It’s a great feeling but more importantly, our team has qualified for the semifinal,” he told The Indian Express. “I’m over the moon. I have no words to describe,” Sikha reacted. This, however, is always the ‘on-field’ equation between the husband and wife. ‘Off-the-field’ it’s the other way around. “At home, I’m the calmer person and he is always bindaas. He is a foodie, loves traditional Gujarati dishes and at times places his ‘orders’ over phone before coming home. But I’m the watchdog who ensures Samit doesn’t lose his fitness,” Sikha said.
Anand district in Gujarat is 70 kilometres off Ahmedabad. It didn’t have a proper cricket academy until last year, when Elecon set up one. Samit started playing leather ball cricket when he was about 11 years old. He joined the Anand district summer camp and was spotted by Desai, imparting cricket education as the Anand District Cricket Association coach. Desai was a former university-level cricketer. “Batting came naturally to him and patience was his biggest virtue, along with the willingness to learn,” Desai said, adding: “Samit has always been very passionate about his cricket.”
Samit’s father Bhanubhai never played the game at any level. He was into travel business before becoming a property dealer. Little did he know that a mini cricket bat would make such deep inroads into the life of his only child. “I presented it to Samit when he was three years old. He hardly touched any other toys after that. The bat became his companion even when he was sleeping. As he grew up, his affection for the game grew stronger. We liked that and extended support,” Bhanubhai said. “I never had any shortage of support from my parents. They never said cricket could affect my studies,” Samit said. He went to IB Patel School that didn’t have enough facilities for cricket. Things improved at BJVM College, where he top-scored for three consecutive seasons in inter-college tournaments. He also completed his B. Com. Gujarat Under-19 beckoned, followed by the state U-23 squad and an entry into the senior team in 2012.
Last season in the Ranji Trophy was a bit of a letdown. Samit had scored only 68 runs in three matches and was duly dropped. He was stuck, struggling to rotate the strike. He was moving at a strike rate of 25.85. “His slow batting had been affecting the team. He was consuming a lot of deliveries without scoring. The omission helped. He worked on his game and returned as a better player. He was always part of the setup and the team ensured he got over his mental block about playing his shots,” Gujarat Ranji team coach Vijay Patel said. “Getting dropped made me more determined,” Samit observed.
Samit was among the India Under-19 probables in 2008-09 and went to the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore for a camp. Meeting his idol Rahul Dravid was a huge bonus. “Rahul sir used to come for training and one day I mustered the courage, walked up to him and asked him about his preparation methods. He spoke at length. He never had any airs about him.”
After the world record, will the conversation change if he gets an opportunity to meet Dravid? “No. I will ask him how I can improve as a cricketer,” Samit answered.
Sikha tells his husband about the importance to switch off. “He always thinks about cricket. Even at home, when Samit is watching telly, he is watching cricket. Sometimes I tell him to relax a bit. He swaps channels, searches for biopics and then returns to cricket if he doesn’t get one.” Samit was also fond of hockey as a kid and went on to represent the state team at junior level. But cricket eventually out-passioned the traditional Indian sport. He is the only player from Anand in the present Gujarat Ranji team. He has suddenly made a district town famous.
Brief scores: Gujarat 263 & 641 in 227.4 overs (Gohel 359 not out; Dhiraj Singh 6/147) vs Odisha 199 & 81/1 in 22 overs.