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Friday, July 01, 2022

Gaurav Dhiman: Trying to revive the genie after two teen World Cups

He took on a fiery Kemar Roach in 2006, but now hopes for redemption after his wife helped him combat depression and alcohol.

Written by Sriram Veera | Mumbai |
Updated: February 8, 2022 8:00:54 pm
Gaurav DhimanGaurav Dhiman has played 1 first-class and 7 List A games for Karnataka. (Express Photo)

PART 5: The 35-year old Gaurav Dhiman can be forgiven if he thinks life has been like a half-hearted genie trying to materialise but giving up. When he was a teenager, it seemed that it would burst out to do all his wishes: two U-19 World Cups in 2004 and 2006, second-highest run getter in the latter as an attacking opener, happy memories of playing with Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, and Ravindra Jadeja, spanking Kemar Roach for boundaries that still linger in his mind, IPL selections— before suddenly the genie went limp and folded inside.

An injury went out of control with lack of proper guidance and so did his mind. The crack created by a personal heartbreak was filled by liquid spirits before the genie started to stir again to save his life. A chance meeting of his father in a metro train with a young lady, who eventually became Gaurav’s wife, turned his life around. The bottle was kicked, the desire to play cricket resurfaced, a surgery was eventually done, an intense physical regimen was kickstarted — and today he has entered his name in the IPL auction fray, hoping for a minor miracle.

He has been playing in first-division in Karnataka, still belts the ball around and bowls medium pace, coaches kids, pursues coaching credentials, but the flame is burning brightly for one final chance at redemption on the field of play. The hope is some talent scout has seen him and put his name forward. “It happened to Pravin Tambe, didn’t it? 35 isn’t that old. I am the fittest I have ever been and I have confidence in my talent,” Dhiman says.

It seems best to start with some sonic memory. The sound of a ball on a square cut off the very pacy young Kemar Roach in the 2006 U-19 World Cup. “By the time I had finished playing that shot – as in my bat flow came to a stop – the ball had crashed into the boundary. That sound of the ball on the bat I can still hear.”

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Another whispered voice-note seeps in. “I remember telling Pujara to let me take strike to Roach, I like his pace and bounce,” Dhiman laughs. Pujara made 97, Dhiman smashed a 56-ball 74 in a 110-run opening partnership.

He talks about happy times spent with Rohit Sharma and later with the likes of Luke Ronchi and co. in the IPL years. He was selected for Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians, but his body began to betray him in both stints.

A ligament tear on the left leg at RCB put him out of business. Didn’t anyone tell him how to recuperate? “Bharat Chipli had the same injury, but he returned to play soon. I thought my case would be the same. No one told me otherwise.” It began to worsen. Next year, when he shifted to Mumbai Indians, the other leg too went. “My knee swelled up and once again I was naive, trying to play through pain.”

Some happy times were interspersed even in this phase. “Sachin Tendulkar was in MI then and I think he was one of the reasons I was in that team. He would tell me every day during my injury, ‘don’t worry, you will be back. Sort that thing out. You are a good batsman.’ Each day he would ask me, ‘how are you?’ He didn’t have to but he did.”

For a moment before the leg went limp, he thought he might open with Sanath Jayasuriya. “Tendulkar had an injury and I was made to open with Jayasuriya in the nets before the matches began. He was a quiet, shy man but to see him blast the ball and above all, to see Tendulkar bat from close quarters was special.”

But the injury worsened and he returned home. He thought rest would do the trick. It didn’t. The light had truly gone out. He couldn’t bowl, was trying to survive on his hand-eye coordination and it wasn’t enough for him to secure a spot in the Karnataka Ranji team.

“I couldn’t even train as my legs were gone. It was here that I picked up bad habits. I also learnt who my friends were. Nearly everyone disappeared. I wasn’t an active cricketer now, you see … What I have learnt in my life at this young age itself is the good thing in the bigger picture I guess. It’s sad but that’s how many people are.”

It’s also the reason he still texts Pujara or some other former team-mate, he says, in their down times. “I know how valuable it can be even for big players in times of trouble.”

His toxic dalliance with alcohol began. “I couldn’t even train and had lots of time to kill. That’s when it began – one drink now, two drinks then and on it goes. Luckily for me, I turned around before it destroyed me. For that I have to thank my wife. I had a pact with my dad – he had played hockey at nationals – that I would marry the girl he finds. Just imagine, he meets her on a train!” A casual chat blossomed into something special for the son.

“She re-charged me. Took off the pressure that I had put on myself. Made me realise what I was doing to myself. All this in her wonderfully casual way. ‘Do what you want. If you want to play cricket, go after it. If you want to do something else, do it. Just be happy.’”

Dhiman’s love for the game resurfaced and the turnaround began with his wife and sports-crazy father (“He is my biggest supporter and probably the only person who thinks I can still make it back in cricket!”). Surgery was done. Fitness regimen took over. Bottle was kicked.

“The other day we were in Goa and even my wife was saying, ‘arre, you can have a drink if you wish,’ but I said no. It’s sort of a discipline I have put on myself for my cricket dream. I have a young kid, how beautiful it would be if I were to show that I made a successful comeback. That I didn’t quit.”

Dhiman says he has realised the power of the mind and how it can actively shape one’s life. The genie seems to be stirring again.

Also read other parts:

 

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