Tales from the crib

With all the Indian Premier League talk revolving around its high-profile second auction next week,and million-dollar price-tags,a few stories from the other end of the spectrum as we take a look at the young players who were drafted out of nowhere

Published: February 1, 2009 6:04:39 pm

With all the Indian Premier League talk revolving around its high-profile second auction next week,and million-dollar price-tags,a few stories from the other end of the spectrum as we take a look at the young players who were drafted out of nowhere

An opening batsman and a man of steel
Natraj Behera
Right-handed opener from Orissa
Kolkata Knight Riders
For any young cricketer,simply being associated with the phenomenon that the Indian Premier League (IPL) is would be considered a highlight — reason enough for a grand celebration. But all 21-year-old Natraj Behera wants after signing a contract with the Kolkata Knight Riders is a job at the prestigious steel plant in his hometown Rourkela.
Behera’s mother has borne the task of running the house single-handedly since he was just three months old,and he believes that it is high time she is relieved of that responsibility.
“She is not physically fit,and it hurts me to see her travel each day to work at the hospital and then come back and manage domestic chores. She has been expecting me to take over the responsibility for a long time now,” he says. With somewhat charming,focus,Behera insists his contract with the Knight Riders should boost his chances of being offered a job at the plant.
Behera was handpicked from 22 probables who attended the Knight Riders’ trials at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack earlier this year. The players were then put through a strenuous net-session followed by a match,which was officiated by Knight Riders captain Sourav Ganguly.

“John Buchanan,who was present there,gave us match-situation simulations,like scoring x number of runs in x number of balls,” says the hard-hitting opener,who made his first-class debut in his team’s final match against Gujarat at Bhubaneswar in December.
He adds that despite being a selection process for a Twenty20 tournament,the techniques of both batsmen and bowlers were given more weightage. “I was then asked to sign a contract for three years,but the money part wasn’t discussed at all,” says Behera.

Ask him about his biggest cricketing moment so far,and Behera almost immediately starts reminiscing about his state under-17 debut,where he smashed a 28-ball 75,and was compared to his role-model Virender Sehwag. “I always try to bat like him. And after that day I started playing even more shots,” he says,and adds that he is presently working on mastering the reverse-sweep,which he used with success during both the Cuttack and Kolkata camps. Most of all,he’s looking forward to meeting his idols,Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum. That,and the job in the steel plant.
— Bharat Sundaresan

Out of the box
Sunny Singh
Right-hand batsman from Bhiwani (Haryana)
Kolkata Knight Riders
As things have turned out over the last eight months,the name Bhiwani only conjures up images of young boxers with giant dreams. In the same little town that produced Vijender Singh,Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar,22-year-old Sunny Singh was landing his blows with a bat in hand.
A hard-hitting batsman,Sunny looked on the fast track to fame when he was picked to play for India in the under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh,alongside the likes of Suresh Raina,Robin Uthappa and RP Singh. He was also growing in stature on the domestic circuit but he disappeared from the scene just as quickly as he had risen.
It was a chance meeting that provided Sunny’s cricketing dreams a new lease of life. The 22-year old Haryana skipper was turning out for the Chandigarh-based LIC Club in the JP Atray tournament in September when former India skipper Sourav Ganguly — dropped from the Irani Cup tie — landed up in Chandigarh,turning out for the same team.
The three matches they played together — they even had an important partnership in one of the games — were enough for Ganguly to assess Sunny’s worth. Months later,Sunny got a phone call from Ganguly,asking him to appear for trials with the Kolkata Knight Riders. With his blistering strokeplay,Sunny impressed the KKR think-tank — coach John Buchanan,assistant coach Brad Murphy and wicket-keeping coach Wade Seccombe. He was offered a three-year contract.
“I bagged the KKR contract only because of Dada. He has been India’s greatest captain. Playing under him along with other international cricketers will be an extraordinary experience. There have been great success stories from the first IPL — the likes of Shaun Marsh,Ravindra Jadeja,Manpreet Gony and Amit Mishra. It is good that now domestic players can show their talent on a bigger stage.”
And the punchline — one that you normally hear from other athletes about cricketers. “I am keen that Bhiwani,known for its boxers,is put on the cricketing map too.”
— Shalini Gupta

Adam’s apples
Jaskaran Singh & Harmeet Bansal
Medium-pacers from Mohali
Deccan Chargers
Bowling to Adam Gilchrist isn’t the best thing to do as a young medium pacer — not for the confidence,nor future prospects (careers of many international bowlers have been slashed by his flailing blade,after all). Oddly enough though,bowling to the Aussie legend was the best thing 19-year-old Jaskaran Singh has done in his fledgling career.
The medium pacer from Mohali was bowling to Gilchrist at an Indian Premier League net session last season,when the Deccan Chargers were down for their away game against Kings XI Punjab,and impressed one of international cricket’s most potent one-day openers with his pace and bounce. Having been appointed the Hyderabad team’s skipper for the second season,Gilchrist was quick to call on Jaskaran to attend the Deccan Chargers trials for the second year.
A good word from former national selector Bhupinder Singh followed and Jaskaran,who made his first-class debut only this season,had to pinch himself on realising that he had made it to the team on a one-year contract.
“Being included in the Deccan Chargers camp is an excellent opportunity for a domestic bowler like me,” Jaskaran said. He’ll do well to follow in the footsteps of one of his closest friends,Manpreet Singh Gony,who made a big impact with some well-shaped outswingers in the IPL last year.
Incidentally,Gony,Jaskaran and Harmeet Bansal (who has also been picked up by the Hyderabad team) are all from Mohali-based coach Sukkhwinder Tinkoo’s stable. Harmeet,the hero of Punjab’s win in the CK Nayudu Under-22 final against Mumbai with a 10-wicket haul,has been offered a three-year deal.
Jaskaran and Harmeet will walk into a dressing room that consists of Gilchrist,Andrew Symonds,VVS Laxman,Shahid Afridi,Herschelle Gibbs and other big names,but their dreams will surely be more than their colleagues’ name-tags. “I never thought I will be playing in IPL so soon. After Gony was so successful last year with the Chennai Super Kings,he was my hero. I want to make it big as a cricketer and I think IPL will provide me that platform.”
— Shalini Gupta

The big bounce
Anureet Singh Kathuria
Right-arm medium pacer from Delhi
Kolkata Knight Riders
His big break came in the form of a camp call-up to Kolkata Knight Riders nets. Like always,the turbaned 20-year-old stopped beside the man standing as umpire and politely handed over his spectacles before marking his run-up. He then bowled a snorter of a ball to shock — and bleed — the diminutive Vineet Indulkar,who’d have hardly expected that devilish delivery from a man who’d been fidgeting with his plain-rimmed glasses just a few minutes ago.
The Delhi boy’s looks are deceptive and so is his action — frugal in frills,but nippy just the same — with the ball pitched in the right areas almost always.
In John Buchanan,Singh will find an able guide for his bowling — conservatively estimated at 135 kmph — accompanied by the promise of improving his natural speed and enviable rhythm.
But it wasn’t all rhythm and song for Anureet till last year,when the East Delhi boy returned home dejected after yet another rejection.
Having digested a series of flat noes at Delhi’s Ranji trials — the scouts unimpressed by his lanky frame for four succesive years — Anureet Singh reckons he’s ready to break away from life’s insipidity and ride a few crests.
His parents saw him through the Delhi trials,and tribulations,and his elder brother prodded him to persist,having himself given up early to support the family.
Since his father had retired from the commercial department of Railways,the youngster — still sniggering at the irony of his nickname,Lucky — offered one shrugging last-ditch effort at the Railways team selections. Picked for the inter-Railways and later impressing in his inaugural season after a six-wicket haul against Karnataka,the Western Railway rookie accompanied two dozen others from Mumbai to the KKR trials.
Life seemed far removed from the league’s big bucks last year,when Singh didn’t watch a single IPL game since he stayed at the Railways hostel,and was too busy putting together his own career. He says he’d rather splurge a part of his basic Rs 20 lakh on a Yamaha RX 135 bike,dutifully handing over the rest to his mother.
The bouncer to Indulkar,he says,was intended merely to beat the bat,not hit the batsman. It has certainly pitchforked him into what could be a high-profile summer with the Knight Riders.
— Shivani Naik

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