Walking alongside the swath of agricultural land he owns, Yogendra Tyagi, a farmer from Dhanaura village in Uttar Pradesh’s Hapur district, is strangely proud when he informs that his son Kartik has no idea about the length or breadth of their farm. While the father concentrates on the 12 bighas that give them wheat, potatoes and cauliflowers, Kartik focuses on the 22 yards in search of wickets. It’s hard work for both of them but the son’s harvest seems to have attracted more attention.
On Sunday, India will hope the new-ball pacer gets it right in the final of the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa.
Consistently clocking 140 kph plus, the 19-year-old pacer first knocked over the Australia middle order in the quarterfinals in Potchefstroom with his 4/24. In the semifinal, he dismissed Pakistan all-rounder Irfan Khan with an in-swinging yorker that had commentators gushing. With 11 scalps, he has impressed the pundits and fans with his bounce, pace and swing.
Clearly the find of the tournament, the boy from Hapur, who honed his bowling skills in Meerut is being compared to the other swing stalwarts from the region: Praveen Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Yogendra has now reached closer to his plot where his son has spent countless hours bowling his heart out. It’s a practice facility that has a tattered net held down by a line of bricks on either side. The metal poles on which the net hangs are rusty. The cement practice wicket is just 11 yards long, the other half of the pitch is just loose black soil. Yogendra points to a tree beyond a recently constructed boundary wall of this cricket training plot.
“Kartik used to run in from there,” Yogendra says. “Sometimes hundreds of deliveries during a single practice session. In winter, he used to train when its coldest and in summer under the afternoon sun. The idea was to bowl in the harshest weather so he toughens up. Bohot mehnati hai (He is very hard-working). That is why he is able to bowl so fast,” the father of India’s Under-19 pace sensation says.
Growing up, Yogendra was a budding sportsman but had to drop out as he didn’t get family support. He played, in his own words, the dehati (rustic) sport of ‘shooting ball’ — it’s volleyball without the passes, lift and over-head spikes.
“I was passionate about shooting ball, but a farmer’s son is expected to toil in the field. When I returned with a medal, I would play hide and seek with my father. The day he caught me, I would get a trashing,” Yogendra says.
Despite the opposition from home, Yogendra put up two poles and created a shooting ball court on land the family owned. But he couldn’t pursue the sport and the volleyball court became a marsh. The poles still stand on the plot with the cricket pitch, the frame is a testimony to the Tyagi family’s changing mindset. Kartik’s grandfather thought that sports was a waste of time. His father, however, saw it as a vehicle to better life.
Yogendra went out of his way to support his son, who fell in love with fast bowling as a 10-year-old. “He has never stepped onto the farmland nor has he ever worked on the farm. I didn’t want him to become a farmer. He wanted to be a fast bowler. I could not follow my dream, I wanted my son to follow his.”
Dhanaura didn’t take too kindly to the Tyagis love for the game. The villagers frowned upon the idea of a farmer trying to make their son a cricketer. A few miscreants damaged the net and even dug up the run-up area. Yogendra wasn’t bothered, he let Kartik pursue his passion.
With Kartik bowling fast, Yogendra decided to take an extra step. He looked around for a coach. A newspaper advertisement about trials in Chandigarh presented them with an opportunity but it led to nowhere.
“We took Kartik to Chandigarh. He was completely out of depth at the trial. The other boys who came there had been trained by reputed coaches at academies. They were batting and bowling like professionals. Kartik was raw and had not been coached. Immediately, I knew that if he wanted to make a career out of cricket, he needed to be guided. Else he would get nowhere,” Yogendra recalls.
Natural swing bowler
The search stopped at the City Vocational Public School in Meerut, where former Uttar Pradesh wicket-keeper batsman Vipin Vats had an academy. Kartik made an instant impression on the veteran coach, someone who has guided swing masters Praveen Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
“I took a look at him for a couple of minutes and told his father ‘I will make him a swing bowler’. He had the ideal action, a straight arm release and all his joints were moving in one direction towards the batsman. He was a natural,” Vats says.
The coach didn’t tinker too much. What he focused on was developing match awareness and bowling sense in his young ward. “He could swing it both ways, so what I advised him about was what ball to bowl when. He was quick to learn. Now in addition to being able to swing the ball, he has developed a very good yorker. The yorker he bowled that Pakistan batsman with, he has been doing that since his Under-16 days,” the coach says.
Once his son joined the academy, Yogendra put farming on the back-burner. The father convinced local school authorities to give him half-day off. He would pack lunch and take it for his son to school, then they would change two buses and take a rickshaw to travel two hours and reach the academy. Post training they would take an evening train from Meerut to Hapur.
“His day would begin at 6 am and he would return home by 8 pm. This was his routine five days a week. Over the weekend he would train on the wicket I made in the village and work on what his coach asked him to. Cricket became his life,” Yogendra says.
His career progressed faster than expected, an Under-14 call up for Uttar Pradesh was followed by selection to the Under-16 team where he made a breakthrough with 50 wickets in one season. Praveen Kumar asked Uttar Pradesh captain Suresh Raina to have a look at the youngster who was making waves on the junior circuit. Kartik impressed the senior batsman and he was handed a Ranji Trophy debut in October 2017, before he had even played for the Under-19 team.
However, misfortune struck, when things were going his way. Kartik fractured his right ankle when playing a game of football to warm-up before a match. The fracture took a month to heal but he was felled by other injuries — shin, groin and back. He would play two to three games and then have to pull out because of injury.
“It was a tough phase for us when he was injured. Time and again some injury would trouble him. We went to several doctors but we couldn’t really figure out why he was breaking down,” Yogendra says.
Kartik’s parents Yogendra and his wife Nandini were worried but they tried to shield their son from the mental turmoil. Kartik had opted for cricket over academics but now he was in a spot with his cricket career coming to a stop because of injury. He had passed Class XI but the future looked bleak. “I told him to take a break from cricket,” Nandini says, “but he was adamant and said if it came to that he would even cycle all the way to Meerut to his academy.”
Things took a turn for the better when an Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association official suggested that Kartik travel to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore for rehabilitation. Yogendra says he had to make every penny count to fund the travel and stay in Bangalore at a hotel.
“One year the yield is good, the next it is not. All depends on the weather. And a farmer’s average income hardly increases year-on-year. I had to scrape the bottom to ensure Kartik got the best advice. People in the village started to make snide remarks. They would say that only eleven players get a chance to play for India and you think your son is that good’.”
The stint at the NCA worked wonders and Tyagi regained his fitness. An Under-19 tour of England followed in July last year and a fat IPL cheque came his way before he was picked to the Under-19 World Cup squad.
After Kartik’s exploits against Australia, Yogendra’s phone has not stopped ringing, from family members to friends to local leaders and the member of parliament, everyone has been calling up to congratulate. Yogendra talks to Kartik at the end of each day, a routine the father and son follow religiously. “I told him not to get too ahead of himself. This is the Under-19 World Cup but there is a long way to go for him. We have seen the ups and downs in the sport. We feel proud when we see him playing for India on television, there is no denying that. But he should not get carried away. ”
In the village, the cheeky remarks about a farmer allowing his son to play cricket have stopped. Yogendra is now referred to as India cricketer Kartik Tyagi’s father and Dhanaura as ‘Kartik Tyagi ka gaanv’.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines