At another end of the country, far way from Panchkula, when India were playing New Zealand in Nagpur last week, the Sodhi household was in a dilemma. They, like most in the country, had always ardently supported for India. But this time, they were beset with a different predicament, for one of their own was draped in the retro beige of New Zealand, leg spinner Ish Sodhi and he was picked in the playing XI as well. (Full Coverage|| Fixtures||Photos)
Possibly, they would have hoped for a win-win outcome? Ish bowling well and India winning.
“We were of course in a dilemma. But, that’s cricket for us and as a family, we enjoy watching Ish whenever he plays for New Zealand. My daughter saw Ish and New Zealand cricket team practice sessions when the team was in Mumbai and she also sought autographs of most of the Kiwi players,” said his aunt Kiran Rampal.
But both wishes weren’t granted. Sodhi bowled spectacularly. But in the process, India lost. For the first time in her life, perhaps, Kiran erupted in joy when Kohli perished. Or for that matter, any Indian wicket. She says she will cherish the wicket foreover. “Most of us are huge fans of Kohli and other Indian batsman and cheer for their boundaries. But when Ish got the wicket of Kohli in the first match, we were cheering for Ish. It was a mixed feelings for us with most of our friends also watching the match with us. To get the wicket of Kohli and that too on Indian pitches is something which we will cherish forever,” she said. Soon, they began chalking out travel plans to Dharamshala, where New Zealand met Australia, and Mohali, where they are to battle Pakistan.
The feeling was the same in Sodhi’s ancestral house in Khanna, a sleepy town in Ludhiana. “It has been a long wait for the family to see Ish play in New Zealand colours. And we knew that he will get a chance to play in India as he is a spinner. To see him claim three wickets after New Zealand posted a low total meant a lot for the whole family. Most of his friends and our family friends came to watch the match and his grandmother Gurdeep Sodhi also watched the match and cheered for him,” said Puneet Sodhi, Ish’s aunt.
Ish was born in Ludhiana, before his father Dr Raj Sodhi shifted to Auckland in 1996. He was just four then. As he grew up, so did his interest in cricket, and he started out as a pacer at the Papatoetoe High School in Auckland, which was not exactly a nursery of cricketers.
The Dipak Patel connection
But a training stint with another India-origin spinner—offie Dipak Patel, he of the 1992 World Cup fame— was to change his tastes. Former New Zealand opener Matt Horne too convinced him to switch over, and he decided bowling spin was the best way forward. But a spot in the Auckland squad remained elusive, and hence was a little frustrated. Then came an offer from Nothern Districts, which he grabbed with both hands.
Despite his middling stats in the domestic circuit, there was something about him that impressed the selectors. Less than a year from making his first-class debut, he was fast-tracked to the Test squad that toured Bangladesh. And in Chittagong, when just 20, he made his debut.
Puneet remembers the first time they went to watch him play live—during the Champions League T20 in 2014, when Northern Districts played Kings XI Punjab in Mohali. “He played in India in the Champions League in September 2014 and we all went to see the matches,” she recollected.
Though he is mostly in New Zealand, he still shares a strong bond with his relatives in Ludhiana. “He was playing for New Zealand when his grandfather Amarjeet Sodhi died in January 2014. He made sure that he visited Khanna later to spend time with his grandmother. Whenever he comes, he also asks for Paranthas and spends time with his cousins,” said Puneet.
Many of his cousins went to watch him in Dharamshala, and now on Tuesday, he will play on his home soil, literally! No doubt, they will be behind Ish and the Kiwis. But another India-New Zealand match, and the dilemma would return to haunt them again. It’s a dilemma they’ll get used to.