Ranji Trophy: When Vartej villagers crowded TV showrooms for Chetan Sakariya

Sakariya, a left-arm swing bowler, made a vital contribution with the bat during last week’s Ranji Trophy semifinal against Gujarat.

Sakariya has claimed 11 wickets during the ongoing Ranji Trophy.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Whenever Saurashtra’s Ranji Trophy match has been televised over the last couple of years, TV showrooms in and around Bhavnagar - especially in Vartej, a village on the outskirts - are flooded with residents cheering for a left-arm pacer from their locality. One of them is Kanjibhai Sakariya - who for a long time drove his tempo ferrying goods - now famous in Vartej as “Chetan na pita” (Chetan’s father).

“The house is small, so we still don’t have a TV at home,” reveals Sakariya Jr. “Now he has retired and I am glad he can relax a little bit at home now.”

Sakariya, a left-arm swing bowler, impressed during his debut season in 2018-19, picking 29 wickets to help Saurashtra sail into the the Ranji final. A stress fracture had pegged him back this season, but the 22-year-old made a vital contribution with the willow during last week’s semifinal against Gujarat.

READ | The McGrath role in Chetan Sakariya's upswing

With a lead of 52 runs in the first innings, Saurashtra had been reduced to 4/3 by an on-song Chintan Gaja. Captain Jaydev Unadkat sprinted to the dressing room, helped Sakariya pad up and promoted the No. 11 batsman to see off Gaja’s opening spell. Soon afterwards, he found Saurashtra reeling at 15 for five, but it was Sakariya’s knock of 45 and a 90-run partnership with man-of-the-match Arpit Vasavada that put Saurashtra back on top.

“It was a surreal experience. Like everyone else, I wanted to bat before the coach at our academy in Bhavnagar converted me into a bowler. To contribute with the bat in a big match was indeed a great feeling,” he says.

While domestic cricketers of his age - he turned 22 on the eve of the semifinal - would dream of earning an IPL contract and the India cap, Sakariya has more on his mind. Not that he is content plying his trade in first-class cricket but the eldest of three siblings is more practical, having been brought up in a humble background.

“Of course I want to play at the higher level but at the same time, I have to ensure that I move the family into a bigger house as soon as I can (theirs is a two-room home right now),” he says. “The younger brother has started working now but I have to look after my sister’s education and also help her groom her musical talent. She sings well and plays instruments too.”

Sakariya cleans up Gujarat's Samit Gohil in the Ranji Trophy semifinals. Photo: VIJAY SONEJI



While Sakariya admits his parents have been supportive ever since he started representing Saurashtra in age-group cricket, he had to lie to them to play cricket early on.

“They were skeptical since they always used to say yeh amiron ka khel hai (it’s a game for the rich) and wanted me to focus on academics since I was good at it,” he recalls. “For the first few years, I would squeeze out of home citing tuitions and instead hopped on to a local road transport rickshaw and head to the academy in Bhavnagar.”

It was only when he handed over an envelope of Rs. 7,000, his match-fees for the first season of Saurashtra Under-16, that he received a nod of approval from Kanjibhai. “It also helped that once Saurashtra U-16 were playing a game in Bhavnagar, I didn’t get selected but I was put up at a leisurely hotel just by virtue of being in the squad. I took papa to the hotel, showed him the room and he was quite impressed,” he says; his face lit up.

READ| Ranji Trophy: Pujara boost for Saurashtra in final against Bengal

As much as Sakariya owes his achievements to Sheldon Jackson - the senior-most Saurashtra batsman who also hails from Bhavnagar, who “gave me my first spikes after I managed to bowl him out in a net session during my under-19 days” - and others in the Saurashtra camp and association, he can’t stop heaping praise on the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai.

“Glenn sir (McGrath, director at the academy) and Senthil sir (M. Senthilnathan, chief coach) have taught me everything that I know about swinging the ball and knowing my body well,” Sakariya said. “Chennai is my second home. For three years now, I have been spending as much time as possible during off-season at the academy.”

He also learned about the value of nutrition at the MRF Pace Academy. He remembers how he would “eat at street-side to try and save some from the daily allowance” but it all changed after a bout of food poisoning ahead of a game at Nashik. “That made me realise I had to look after my body in every sense. The trainers and nutritionists at MRF made me aware about diet. Since then, I have been very particular about what I eat,” he says.

Sakariya admits his returns with the ball this season - 11 wickets at 47.63 - are far from impressive, but hopes to make up for it “with an impact performance” during next week’s final against Bengal. While he isn’t sure if his family will travel to Rajkot and witness him in action for the first time, be rest assured that Kanjibhai would be sitting outside an electronic showroom from March 9.

  Dugout videos