It’s a shot Harvik Desai is unlikely to forget anytime soon. A slash over backward point boundary helped India’s U-19 team clinch their fourth World Cup title at the Bay Oval, New Zealand, early last year. The designated wicket-keeper, Desai batted down the order for the better part of that campaign. However, when he got an elevation, he cashed in by stroking a match-winning unbeaten 47.
Orchestrating that knock under those circumstances won him praise from several quarters, and illustrated the 18-year-old’s calm demeanor. He showed that streak of his again during his unbeaten 83 against Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji quarterfinal, displaying remarkable fortitude to play probably his finest knock in his fledgling nine-match first-class career. The knock catapulted Saurashtra to 195/2, putting them firmly in control of the proceedings at the end of the day’s play. Going forward, they require another 177 runs to guarantee the semis.
Those following his career are not surprised by his comeuppance. It follows the 84 he scored in the first innings that saw him finish as Saurashtra’s highest scorer. This is Harvik’s debut first-class season, and in the eight games spanning 15 innings preceding his game, he has scored 538 runs with five 50s.
A middling average of 35.86 doesn’t suggest anything spectacular. The lack of a three-figure score as an opener is something that has hurt him, especially after having notched up three scores in excess of 80. Coach Sitanshu Kotak did not mince words on the eve of this knock-out game: “There’s a tendency for our batsmen to score 70s and 80s and not convert them to three-figure scores. It’s an issue that we have looked at, and it would be great if someone from our top-order steps up with a century in an important game like this.” An opportunity beckons Harvik on Saturday.
To be fair, this transition from white-ball cricket to the longer format has not been easy. For starters, he had to come out of the middle-order comfort zone and open the innings. Snell Patel’s presence meant he had to banish the gloves as well. Harvik accepted these twin challenges gleefully.
Despite a sedate start, he blossomed into one of Saurashtra’s batting mainstays. The two knocks in Lucknow amply justifies his cricketing nous. In the first innings, when others around him kept faltering to Uttar Pradesh’s pace trio, Harvik batted without fuss. He may care less about his father’s clothing store back in Bhavnagar, but as a batsman, he does a damn good job of stitching together vital partnerships for his team’s cause. There were two such telling partnerships that Harvik was involved — a 132-run opening stand with Patel, followed by 55 runs for the second wicket with Visvaraj Jadeja — that wore down Uttar Pradesh’s resistance.
The composure is a trait that he imbibed while growing up in Bhavnagar, a port town in Gujarat, known for oil refineries. Father Manish describes his son as extremely composed and matured way beyond his years. “As a child, all he cared about was cricket. He was a meritorious student as well, but unlike most of the children of his age, he was extremely focused and would never get distracted,” he tells The Indian Express.
Manish runs a clothing store in the heart of Bhavnagar, which was set up by his great great grandfather, at the start of the 20th century. But Harvik was disinclined to the family business. “As a child, he would never venture anywhere close to our shop. I knew from the beginning that he never really cared about our business. The only option left in front of me was to give him the freedom to pursue his dreams,” he notes.
It was a pragmatic move, but deep down, Manish nursed dreams of seeing Harvik play cricket. “Actually, even I was crazy about cricket as a child, and played for the Bharuch Cricket Club here in Bhavnagar, before I dropped out and settled into my family business. When I saw Harvik’s passion for the game, I enrolled him in my academy when he was 9,” Manish explains.
The father’s deep-rooted desire to see his son excel in the game saw fruition on that cold February morning last year. Almost a year later, he’s warming up for another high of his son. “Just like in the U-19 World Cup, he wants Harvik to play the winning hand for Saurashtra tomorrow.”
Brief Scores: Uttar Pradesh 385 & 194 vs Saurashtra 208 & 195/2 (Harvik Desai 83 not out, Snell Patel 72; Akshdeep Nath 1/5, Shivam Mavi1/60). Saurashtra need another 177 runs to win.