Rongsen Jonathan left Mokokchung in Nagaland after Class 4. His father’s PhD in theology took the family to Bengaluru. Young, wild and free, he had no idea that cricket would one day be his calling when St Joseph School introduced him to the sport.
Two decades later, the 32-year-old felt a sense of déjà vu as he padded for training at the Nagaland Cricket Association ground – better known as Sovima – in Dimapur. “I felt I was in my dreams. It took me time to realise I was actually living it in reality. Earlier, it was all a dream,” Jonathan said on Monday.
Among the north-eastern teams – playing for the first time in the BCCI domestic season 2018-19 – Nagaland stood out with five wins in eight games in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. It didn’t qualify for the play-offs, but the dream is far from over for Jonathan, who never thought he would represent his native state one day but led the side with a lot of pride.
“When the rumours started that Nagaland may earn the BCCI affiliation, I called up Nagaland Cricket Association secretary A. Rahman and promised that I will be part of the team if it happens. I gave him that assurance long ago,” said Jonathan, who joined the squad straight from the Karnataka Premier League, where he turns out for the Shivamogga Lions.
Even during the KPL season, he had started talking to the Nagaland youngsters over the phone. “I was stressing on the importance of the Ranji label, what it is about, and the psychological strength needed to combat pressure. Then, I reached Sovima to train. We had a good preparation.”
“For me, KPL was a good tournament to prepare for the season. It has always helped. There are many skilful bowlers. Plus, it is shown on television and the stands are full. It teaches a player how to deal with pressure.”
That feeling of home
There aren’t many cricketers from the north-east. “And that’s why, it felt new, weird, but great. I am not used to it. It is like playing cricket with your lookalikes; my people, my own people,” said an emotional Jonathan, who earlier represented Karnataka and Railways in domestic cricket.
He now wants the local cricketers to take the Vijay Hazare experience as a handbook. “My local boys need to learn a lot from the skill point of view, but cricket can’t be taught in a few months. Cricket is a mental game. I want them to learn how the competition is, how pressure is built, and how to come out good,” he said.
After losing narrowly to Puducherry – where Jonathan registered his highest score in List A (89) – Nagaland enjoyed a hat-trick of wins against Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. At the start of the season, it beat Meghalaya and Sikkim.
All Nagaland cricketers look up to Jonathan. “They have seen me play KPL and Ranji Trophy for Railways. They already knew there was a cricketer from Nagaland. It gave them hope. I am glad I could bring them hope,” said Jonathan, who would visit his relatives in Nagaland for Christmas once a year.
Henceforth, his frequency of travel will only increase.
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