Mukesh Kumar goes from Bengal's support cast to lead pacer

Mukesh Kumar's career-best figures of six for 61 in the second innings helped Bengal's 174-run win over Karnatka in the Ranji Trophy semifinals.

Mukesh Kumar celebrates taking the wicket of Karnataka's Manish Pandey.   -  PTI

From being a promising youngster fighting ‘bone edema’ and ‘malnutrition’ issues to becoming a match-winning medium pacer for Bengal, Mukesh Kumar has made an unbelievable journey as a cricketer.

Mukesh, who idolised Brett Lee, gave a sensational performance to return with career-best figures of six for 61 in the second innings, which helped Bengal beat Karnataka by 174 runs in the semifinals on Tuesday to reach the Ranji Trophy final after 13 years.

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The 26-year-old, hailing from an unheralded Kankar Kund village in Gopalganj district of Bihar, has excelled from being a supporting bowler to Ashoke Dinda to being a front-line seamer for Bengal, since making his first class debut in 2015-16 season.

Overnight, Mukesh convinced his captain to change his end in the morning and effected some quick dismissals. “The more I make the batsman play, the more successful I become. It's about getting matured. I adjust myself according to the batsmen's approach,” said Mukesh, who has taken 30 wickets in the season so far.

Mukesh, who kept frequenting Kolkata (where his father used to work) from 2003, slowly found platforms to play cricket at the grassroots level. “I did not have much pace earlier. Now, I've pace, swing and seam.”

Bengal bowling coach Ranadeb Bose, whom Mukesh considers his guru, shared how he spotted the pacer and included him in Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) Vision 2020 programme in 2014.

“I saw Mukesh in the Vision 2020 nets without any spikes. He has been a low-profile guy. I found him [to be] special. Waqar (Younis) was not hundred per cent sure about Mukesh. When I requested him, he said ‘If you think he is good, then keep him.’

“Mukesh had bone edema. He had a malnutrition issue because he came from a very humble background. Sourav Ganguly was the CAB secretary then and I requested him whether CAB could take care of Mukesh’s food and lodging. Thankfully Ganguly agreed. We kept him at the CAB facility for two years. His MRI was an expensive affair. We took care of that. The physios helped him.

“Then he played under-23 and then as a bowler in the Bengal nets. I again went back to Sourav to ask whether I could play him in the Ranji Trophy. Laxman also gave positive views. Coach Sairaj (Bahutule) had his reservations, but we played him in Lalhi. His first wicket was Virender Sehwag. He took four wickets on debut and saved my job,” said Bose.

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