By: Sriram Veera
When Shubham Khajuria looked out of his hotel room on a September morning, he couldn’t see the road below. The street in Sonwar lay sunk in water, as was the entire city of Srinagar where he had come to play a game of cricket, and the water was rising up towards him. He knew his family was safe in dry Jammu but they couldn’t know the extent of his strife as the phone lines were all down. As Jhelum kept rising dangerously, he was trapped on the first floor, waiting for help.For two days.
Eventually, along with the hotel staff, he scrambled towards the elevated Nehru Helipad in the city and met several people like him who were waiting for the Army helicopters to bail them out. The six nights there — the queue to safety was a long one — were spent sleeping on the road, “hungry” but hopeful before the 19-year old was finally airlifted out of troubled waters.
“Flood sey fitness ho gaya mera,” he says with a smile that startles; perhaps it comes from his age, perhaps it’s his innate character , perhaps it’s due a sense of perspective, and personality, developed in a region in perpetual conflict. “I became mentally stronger in those six days,” Khajuria says after a maiden first-class ton that has raised visions of a special win for J&K.
STATE OF PLAY
Before we return to his harrowing ordeal, and how those six days shaped his character, let’s re-trace the day of cricket that revealed as much about the state of Mumbai cricket as it did of J&K.
Consider this: If Khajuria hadn’t committed the mental error that led to his run out at 107 and made it 204 for 3, J&K would have got a greater lead than the 18 they got. He thought the fielder Bravish Shetty, at point, will aim for the non-striker’s end from where he had started running for the single and wasn’t brisk enough to beat the direct hit at his end.
The collapse didn’t come immediately after his exit as the middle order were combative for the next 20 overs, but the last five fell to the accuracy of the spinners Vishal Dabholkar and Iqbal Abdullah for the addition of just two runs within the space of three overs. And J&K were bowled out for 254. Khajuria’s was a pleasing effort, though, filled with confident punches, fluent drives and an admirable restraint from pulling — he says it had led to a rash of dismissals in the past and so he tried to curb it here.
Was that collapse game-changing one though? May be if it was a Mumbai team from a salubrious past. This outfit, though, was reduced to 66 for 4 in 24 overs, effectively leading by 48. Their hopes were further dented by the fact that Wasim Jaffer suffered a hairline fracture on the right index finger when he dropped Khajuria, on 104, a straight-forward chance just before lunch and didn’t take the field again nor come out to bat.
It’s learnt that he will be out for two weeks and it remains to be seen whether he can grip the bat properly, and risk more serious injury, in case Mumbai’s dire situation forces him to bat today.
It could well come down to how J&K handle the prospect of winning. In the past we have seen teams, which aren’t generally used to consistent success, freeze mentally but that scenario would also demand that Mumbai drastically raise their game.
It certainly, though, was a happy day for Khajuria to look back at unhappy times with a sense of lightness. “There wasn’t food, I was hungry for those six days, had to sleep on road and I think it made me mentally tougher.” He offered more signs of that transformation. A flurry of hundreds (“I have 10 hundreds in U-19 Cooch-Behar games”) that includes a fastest century in that tournament’s history in his CV (a 70- ball hundred against Maharashtra this November) has now led him to take the next step in his first-class career. He puts down his quiet start to first-class career — a highest of 36 in his five games before — to a feeling of pressure and confusion. “Often, I would come in to play a Ranji game before I would go back to U-19 games, and so I was under pressure.”
At the start of this season, he decided to mothball the U-19 self and see himself as a first-class player. “That has helped.” Khajuria’s personal growth can only continue if he manages to contribute again in what is going to be a one special little chase.
Brief scores: Mumbai: 236 & 66 for 4 (Ram Dayal 2/31, Umar Nazir 2/8). J&K: 254 (Shubham Khajuria 107, Ian Chauhan 70; Vishal Dabholkar 3/30, Dhawal Kulkarni 2/47).