Kumar Kushagra: Jharkhand's teenage record-breaker hungry for more red-ball laurels

In his bid to emulate Jharkhand's senior wicket-keepers MS Dhoni and Ishan Kishan, Kushagra aims to continue the grind in first-class cricket after a record-breaking outing in the Ranji Trophy pre-quarterfinal.

At 17 years and 141 days, Kumar Kushagra became the youngest batter to record a first-class 250-plus score, breaking a 47-year record set by Pakistan's Javed Miandad.   -  PTI

From being deemed too young at six years old to join a cricket academy to becoming the youngest batter in first-class history to hit a 250-plus score, Jharkhand’s Kumar Kushagra has scripted history in style.  

At the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, Jharkhand’s young wicket-keeper batter punished Nagaland's bowlers in their Ranji Trophy pre-quarterfinal clash (March 12-March 16).

At 17 years and 141 days, Kushagra hit 266 in the first innings and his effort took him past Pakistani legend Javed Miandad in the first-class record books. Miandad had notched up his 250-plus score when he was 17 years and 311 days old in 1975. Incidentally, Miandad went on to score 311 in the match and remains on top as the youngest batter to hit a first-class triple century.

Asked about his feat, Kushagra told Sportstar over a video interaction, "I was unaware of the record until my teammates informed me. I felt extremely pleased with myself."

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Like many, he too devours cricket videos, including Miandad's. “I do watch and observe his (Miandad's) batting through YouTube videos. I try picking up good aspects and incorporate them."

Coming from the state that has given India MS Dhoni and Ishan Kishan, Kushagra is eager to grab his chances.

Journey

“In 2016, I played for Jharkhand in the Vijay Merchant Trophy, which was my first taste of state-level cricket. My father, Shashikant, has been my coach since I was a child. Even though we did not have a large house, he would help me practise in our flat's hall. He hung photographs of cricketers in my room and urged me to continue playing the sport,” said Kushagra.

He was a part of the Indian team in the 2020 U-19 World Cup in South Africa, where he featured in only one game in which he returned unbeaten on 13 against Japan. It took him another year to break into Jharkhand's senior teams.

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The start to his red-ball senior career for Jharkhand did not go as he would have liked. “I twisted my ankle in a practice session before the first group match against Chhattisgarh and missed the game. I was disappointed because I had been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time. I had that inner voice nagging me to perform and scored a few runs against Tamil Nadu, which gave me the confidence. Against Nagaland, I went out and scored freely without any self-doubt since I was in a good frame of mind," he said.

The Jamshedpur youngster believes his passion and honesty have contributed to his game evolving. "My father used to drive me to a cricket academy when I was six years old. I was too young to be enrolled in the academy. I would watch others play as no one was willing to allow me to play. My father's encouragement has helped me.”

Jharkhand's staggering 1000

Kushagra's temperament was full on display during Jharkhand's thumping success over Nagaland. His knock lifted Jharkhand to become the first team ever to aggregate a 1000-plus lead over its opposition across two innings in the pre-quarters.

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When asked about Jharkhand's approach to continue batting despite a massive lead, Kushagra said, “There was no predefined strategy when we went to bat first to set a target of 1000 or more runs. The Eden Gardens pitch was good for batting, and we did not want to declare our innings as our batters did not have much opportunity to bat in the previous matches.”

Continuing the wicketkeeping trade

Kushagra focuses on reading the pitch and conveying his insights to the captain. His role model is no surprise. "A leader who has won World Cups and numerous matches for India. MS Dhoni is a source of inspiration for everyone, even those who don't play cricket. Dhoni has been my hero since I was a child. My father has many stories about him. As I grew older, I began to idolise him.”

Kushagra loves the longer format and will be back to the grind for the quarterfinal. "The team and management opted to celebrate Holi first. After a 10-day break, we regroup with the same energy and intensity," he said.

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