ON WEDNESDAY, when he checked in to a hotel in Jaipur, Dara Singh Rana dialled the number of an old friend hoping he was in town. Rajasthan Royals and Kolkata Knight Riders were playing each other at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium and it was a rare opportunity for the families of cricketers Nitish Rana and Sanju Samson to watch the game from the stands and catch up on old times.
At the other end of the line was Viswanath Samson, the father of promising wicket-keeper batsman Sanju. Viswanath, a former football striker, wanted to travel for the game but his coaching assignment for a seven-a-side football team in Kerala put paid to his plans to watch Sanju and KKR’s rising star and all-rounder Nitish play against each other.
Dara Singh relented only after wrangling a promise from Viswanath that he would travel from Vizhinjam to Delhi to watch an IPL game in which either one of their sons featured.
“I told Viswanath that he must make a trip to Delhi during this IPL season to watch either Nitish or Sanju play at the Feroz Shah Kotla. We have known each other from the time these boys first picked up the bat. Today, by God’s grace, they are doing well and, for us parents, it is even more special because we know how tough the early days were,” says Dara Singh.
Earlier this week, the parents texted each other when Samson hit an unbeaten 92 against Royal Challengers Bangalore. The next day, when Rana scored a half-century versus Delhi Daredevils, Viswanath was equally generous with his praise.
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The bond between the two families dates back to a decade-and-a-half when Dara Singh’s younger brother Anil and Viswanath were constables with Delhi Police. Anil, a fast-bowling all-rounder, had taken Nitish under his wing and Viswanath was mentoring his two sons Sanju and elder bother Sally. They would bump into each other as they criss-crossed grounds where local matches were conducted. Notes were exchanged about the progress of the boys when Anil and Viswanath met at Kingsway Camp, the hub of sporting activity for Delhi Police teams.
“We would meet each other during practice. Viswanath was part of the football team and I played cricket. Most days I would be coming for practice and he would have finished or the other way around. When both the boys started playing cricket for their respective states and IPL teams, we renewed a friendship that had begun when we both represented Delhi Police,” says Anil, who is a sub-inspector.
Viswanath took voluntary retirement in 2008 and moved back to Vizhinjam after Sanju almost quit the game when he was not being selected for an age-group team in Delhi. But the families didn’t lose touch.
“Whenever I come to Delhi, I do call on Rana ji and Anil ji. Last year, I had visited their home. It was great to catch up and recall the good old days. We have common friends and we do get together whenever I come to Delhi to play football with my old colleagues,” says Viswanath. Sanju, too, called on the Ranas when he was in Delhi last year.
Back in the day, Sanju trained under coach Yashpal at the academy in DL DAV Model School, Shalimar Bagh. Rana has been coached by Sanjay Bharadwaj at the LB Shastri Cricket Academy. “As budding cricketers they were in a way competing with each other because they were in the same age bracket. But there was never any bad blood,” says Viswanath.
During their conversation, Dara Singh and Viswanath didn’t dwell on the game too much because only one among Rana or Samson would end up on the winning side. But they will speak to each other soon.
“The families are friends and Sanju and Rana are also in touch with each other. But when it comes to cricket both of them are competitive. I would actually would say both the families are competitive. But once the game is over, we will speak to each other again. After all, a lot of our friendship is based on the cricketing journeys of our sons,” says Dara Singh.
Both Rana and Samson have played crucial knocks this IPL season, and are among the top-three batsmen. But Wednesday turned out to be Rana’s day as the 24-year-old picked up two wickets and hit an unbeaten 27-ball 35 to play a key role in Kolkata’s seven-wicket victory over Rajasthan.
But then, it’s not over yet. The two will get to face off once more, when their teams clash again in Kolkata on May 15.