AT THE CRPF camp in Odisha’s Maoist-affected Rayagada district, no one knew Ravi Kumar. A handful knew his father, Rajinder Singh, an Assistant Sub Inspector. But Saturday night changed it all. Ravi, a left-arm seamer, nabbed three wickets for 14 runs — highlighted by an opening spell of 5-1-5-3 — to set up India’s five-wicket victory over Bangladesh for a place in the semifinals of U-19 World Cup in West Indies.
It was India’s sweetest moment in the tournament yet, as Bangladesh had beaten them to the trophy in the previous edition.
Today, all the talk in the CRPF camp is about Rajinder and Ravi. “Kal tak toh koi Rajinder ko yahan janta nahi tha. Aaj sab saheb jante hai (Until yesterday, no one knew Rajinder here. Today, all the officers know)… Ravi ka papa Rajinder is the talk of our unit here. All the officers have called and congratulated me, I don’t have many words to express my happiness,” an emotional Rajinder told The Indian Express.
The father-son duo had to cross a series of hurdles to savour this day. The story of Ravi was one that nearly did not happen. His mother was worried about her son playing cricket all the time, and wanted him to focus on academics and earn a degree. Ravi, unperturbed, would tell her: “Aaj aap mujhe rok rahi hai, ek din aisa aayega ki aap mujhe TV pe dekhoge (Today, you are stopping me but there will come a day when you will see me on TV).”
Rajinder remembered this line when he watched his son slice the Bangladesh top-order, with his incisive and slippery bowling, on his smartphone in the camp deep into the night. He admits that there were times when he, too, was worried about his son’s future. “I don’t have money and resources to make him play for India,” he says.
But then, seeing Ravi’s drive and commitment, he told him: “If you have the ‘dum’, you will play for India.” That, his son did when he was barely 19. But not before overcoming several setbacks. Realising that his prospects of progress were bleak if he stayed in UP, Ravi called his father after selection trials in Kanpur and told him he had heard talk about bribes for a place in the state’s U-16 squad.
Rajinder knew that was beyond his modest salary and savings. But the breakthrough moment came when a neighbour, who has a house in Kolkata, told Rajinder that Ravi could stay there and play. Then just 13, Ravi had no second thoughts and packed his bags. He started playing in the second division before quickly leaping to first division. Misfortunes continued to haunt him, though, but he never told his parents about them. “I was in an U-16 camp but my name was removed after some tests, bone test or something. I was not given a reason and I was out,” says Ravi.
And whenever he felt defeated, he sought motivation from his father. “Sometimes there are thoughts that ‘yaar, yeh toh bahut tough hai’ but then I think about my father. Unke job se zyada aur kya tough ho sakta hai (What can be tougher than his job)? Every day, he goes inside the jungle not knowing what is ahead of him. At the same time, he is doing so much for us,” says Ravi, who dreamt of joining the Air Force and played cricket “for fun” before local coach Arvind Bharadwaj spotted him.
At times, he was taunted. “I heard a taunt from my friends that I won’t be able to do much,” says Ravi. Some of them are praising him now, he says. He takes it as a life lesson. “That’s life. One thing I have learnt is that only family stays with you till the end,” he says.
Gradually, fortunes changed. Late last year, he was picked for Bengal’s U-19 team for the Vinoo Mankad Trophy. His success earned him a place in the Challengers Trophy, a tri-series at home and the Asia Cup. But just when destiny seemed to smile on him, he lost his uncle in Kolkata due to Covid.
Ravi has just one wish now: “I want people to follow me and say ‘we have to be like him’.” He knows though that this dream journey has only begun, and there’s still a long way to go. But for now, the fame of Rajnder’s son has travelled far beyond the walls of a CRPF unit.