Fourteen seasons ago, when Abhishek Nayar made it to the Mumbai's Ranji Trophy squad, he did not set for himself any big target. The idea was to take things as they come.
However, the last 14 years have been eventful for the all-rounder. From being one of the mainstay for Mumbai to featuring in three ODIs for India — Nayar has seen it all. He is now all set to add another feather to his cap when the second leg of the Ranji Trophy begins on Monday. The 36-year-old will be playing in his 100th first-class match. The team won't be Mumbai, but Puducherry.
Nayar was dropped from Mumbai's Ranji Trophy squad mid-season last year, when the all-rounder was just one short of playing his 100th first-class game. This year too, he was kept out of the 30-member probables squad, forcing him to shift base to Puducherry — which will be playing its first Ranji Trophy game, when it takes on Meghalaya.
Closer to his milestone match, Nayar gets nostalgic. “At the start of my career, I could never believe that I would play my 100th game. I never really thought about it, so to be able to reach that mark is a (good thing),” Nayar tells Sportstar.
Enjoying the game
Milestones have never been of much significance for the Mumbai-based cricketer, rather it was always about ‘enjoying the game’. “It may sound cliché, but for me, enjoying the game has been the main thing. So, when I take the field (on Monday), the focus will be only on the game. It will be about playing it and enjoying every moment, be it for Mumbai or Puducherry,” Nayar says.
Nayar took the Mumbai exit in his stride and moved on. “I told myself that if I am meant to play my 100th first-class game, I will play it. If I am not meant for it, I will never be able to. I took it that way,” Nayar says.
It is a mixed feeling for Nayar after having played 99 first-class games for Mumbai. “I was part of the team when it won five Ranji Trophies. A lot of people haven’t done these things in their career and I feel fortunate. So, I do not want to look at my career and feel, ‘Oh damn, this is one match that took away everything’. I had 99 reasons to cheer about, and not worry about that one thing,” he says.
But initially it did hurt a bit. “(When I was standing at 99 games) I thought it was just one game, may be, I could have played one more game. But when I look back, I feel this is part of the game,” Nayar says.
Role of mentor
Nayar's long career has taught him that there is a ‘time and place for everything’, and that is something he believes in. So, when he joined Puducherry ahead of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, he knew his role with the side would be that of a mentor. But instead of motivational talks, Nayar told his new team-mates to go out and enjoy the game. “It is a big occasion for them to play first-class cricket and they need to understand the feeling. If you try to put forth too many responsibilities on them it will be too early. Before I tell them how to deal with pressure, they need to understand what is pressure? I don’t know they know yet, once they reach there then we can work on that,” Nayar says.
As he looks back, Nayar cherishes the memories of his 2006-2007 season. “That was my first Ranji Trophy win for Mumbai and it was a tough year for me and we were facing relegation. That’s when Pravin (Amre) Sir and Milind Rege backed me. I contributed to the team’s success and helped them win the title. That gave me immense belief. That’s something I will always remember,” Nayar said.
To overcome rough patches, his team-mates and contemporaries like Dinesh Karthik, Rohit Sharma and Shreyas Iyer have reached out to him for help. But Nayar does not like to call it as ‘giving back to the game’. “That’s over-rated. I am not giving anything back to the game. I am just doing what I love. I am only taking from the game and enjoying every bit.
“It does not matter if it’s a Karthik or a Shreyas Iyer or a Rohit Sharma. It is just a matter of fact that if you can contribute to anyone’s life and help them,” he said.
Cricket has been a great learning curve for Nayar, as he gets ready to resume the innings at 99.
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