In 2008-09, a trial ‘Pratibha ki Khoj‘ was organised in the Gopalganj district of Bihar, which started Mukesh Kumar’s tryst with cricket. In the 25-over per side match, Kumar bagged 34 wickets in seven games. A year later, he represented Bihar U-19 in the Associate & Affiliate Tournament hosted by the BCCI.
Amit Singh, former captain of the Gopalganj district cricket team in Hayman Trophy (Inter-district cricket tournament in Bihar), who first spotted Kumar’s talent, recalls how Mukesh used to cycle 30 kms everyday, to-and-fro to play cricket at the academy.
“His village (Kakarkund) was 15km from the town (Gopalganj). I used to be amazed at how he does that everyday. I told him so many times to take bus, his reply will be ‘Bhaiya leg muscles strong kar rahe, sena mey bharti hona hai‘ (I am working on my leg muscles, it would help me to get into the army,” Amit tells Indian Express from Gopalganj.
“Cricket was a passion; but his aim was to get into the Indian army. His cousins were in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), his father was against cricket, and honestly, back then, there was no scope in cricket for Bihar,” says Singh.
Since Bihar was not affiliated by BCCI, and his cricketing career was going nowhere, Kumar moved to Kolkata in 2012 to help his father’s taxi business, which was suffering losses. But he went against the wish of his father (Late Kashinath Singh), and started playing local matches in the second league for Rs 400-500.
In 2014, he appeared in another trial, which changed his life. Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) was organising a ‘Vision 2020 programme,’ where he was spotted by Ranadeb Bose, former Bengal pacer and bowling coach. The trials were conducted with VVS Laxman, Waqar Younis and Muttiah Muralitharan at the helm.
Within a year, he was picked for Bengal, and his consistent performance over the years, helped him to get India A call-up against New Zealand A, where he bagged a five-wicket haul, and now a month later, he has received his maiden India call for the ODI series against South Africa.
Two trials that changed life
“It is all about the two cricket trials in my life. First, one in Gopalganj, where I became district’s best bowler and then in Kolkata, which changed my life,” Mukesh Kumar tells Indian Express from Rajkot, where he is playing for Rest of India in the Irani Cup.
“There has been a struggle in my life, but it is common. Har kisi ke saath hota hai (Everyone goes through that phase). My aim was to play cricket at the highest level and I am living my dream. Agar zindagi mey muskileyen na aati toh shayad mai yahaan nahi pahunch paata (If I had not gone through those hard times in my life, I would have never reached here),” says Kumar.
Mukesh feels he got lucky at every step of his life. Be it his mentor Amit Singh, his father, who forced him to move to Bengal, Ranadeb Bose, who was in awe after watching him bowl in nets, Manoj Tiwari, who gave him his own kit, or Arun Lal, who said ‘You have the potential to play for India.’
“I was very lucky. At every step, I got help.My father gave me one year to make a career out of cricket. And thereafter, I was fortunate enough to learn from Rano Sir (Ranadeb), Manoj bhaiya (Tiwary), Arun Lal sir. If not for these people, I would have never made it this far,” says Mukesh.
Kumar recalls when he was selected for Bengal for the Buchi Babu tournament, he didn’t have a cricket kit.
“Manoj bhaiya mereko bat, pad aur gloves diya tha (Manoj Tiwary gave me a bat, leg guards and gloves),” Kumar recalls.
Death of the father
Before 2019-20 season, when he was in the Bengal camp, Kumar got a call from his elder brother Dhanset, who informed him about the demise of his father.
“My father had a brain haemorrhage in 2019. He never liked me playing cricket. He wated me to join army, I even gave CRPF exam twice. Today I just wish my father was alive. He would have been thrilled,” says Kumar.
Former Bengal coach, Arun Lal, shares an interesting story about Kumar. He says, “The thing that impressed me the most that his ability to bowl long spells in that probing outside off-stump line throughout the day.
“If you have seen Mohammed Abbas of Pakistan, he is just like him. He is not 140kmph, but he will not give you an inch. If Mukesh is bowling, you need a couple of good slip fielders.”
Kumar only got to know about his India selection when he was added to the Indian team’s official WhatsApp group. However, he is not looking too far ahead as he has got a game to win against Saurashtra in the ongoing Irani Cup.
“Phle ye match jeet le fir sochenge (First priority is to win this match, rest can wait),” says Kumar, who will turn 29 next week.
The fiesty pacer is probably one of the rare cricketer who got selected for India without having an IPL contract. However, he was a net bowler for the Delhi Capitals in the last season.
“Bhaiya udhar bhi trials chal raha mera kaafi saalon se, darwaja tootega jaroor (I have been giving IPL trials for years now; hopefully, I will able to break that door.”