Cricket, on the field, is a waiting game. In a cricket-crazy country such as India, the wait off the field can be more pronounced and even extend into eternity. Sagar Udeshi, Pondicherry’s ace left-arm orthodox spinner, is no stranger to both of these facts.
“It is just about being patient. If there is assistance, it’s fine, but if there is no assistance, you have to wait. It is a game of patience,” Udeshi said after claiming a fifer, his fourth of the Ranji Trophy season, against Kerala.
While Udeshi was referring to his 22-over long wicketless spell before his patience trumped that of Kerala captain Sijomon Joseph’s and precipitated a collapse, the statement could well have applied to the spinner’s 32-year long wait for a First-Class debut.
“I am used to bowling long spells of 20 to 30 overs. I have bowled 40 overs also in a day. I don’t try and do anything differently. I just try to stick to my basics. The captain asked me to bowl dot balls and wait for the wicket,” the 36-year-old said with nonchalance.
At the end of the group stage of the ongoing Ranji Trophy, Udeshi is fourth on the wicket-takers’ list with 42 scalps at an average of 17.09. His numbers in First-Class cricket, where he averages 18.29 for his 168 wickets in 29 matches, attest he is no one-season wonder.
But his road to Indian domestic circuit has been paved with patience, determination and sacrifice. The search for his maiden First-Class cap took Udeshi to Sri Lanka, where he featured for Chilaw Marians Cricket Club as a professional in Tier A of the Premier League tournament. He revelled in his debut season, emerging as the second-highest wicket-taker with 57 scalps in eight games.
However, Udeshi had set his sights on featuring in the Ranji Trophy, which would mark the culmination of his childhood dream and serve as a motivation for his physical transformation.
“I wanted to lose weight, but I wasn’t really motivated. I was frustrated that I couldn’t play First-Class cricket. The domestic season in Sri Lanka was an eye-opener for me. I realised I can do it. I bowled 420 to 430 overs in Sri Lanka in eight games. So, I had that skill, but there was no motivation,” Udeshi, who weighed between 100 and 110 kgs when he made his First-Class debut, said.
“Luckily, I got an opportunity to play for Pondicherry. I am honoured to share the dressing room with Paras Dogra. In my first year in Ranji Trophy (2019-20), Vinay Kumar was there. They always told me that I was bowling well, but I needed to lose weight and do training – both strength and running. It is never too late to train, work out, or diet. You need to sacrifice a lot of stuff to gain something,” Udeshi said.
Lighter by 32 kgs, the results were there for Udeshi to see. In the 2019-20 season, he was Pondicherry’s joint-highest wicket-taker, along with Kumar, with 45 wickets in nine matches. Between September and December 2019, Udeshi reduced his weight by a whopping 20 to 25 kgs ahead of his Ranji Trophy debut, where he picked nine for 105 against Bihar in Pondicherry’s 10-wicket win.
“After training and cutting down on your favourite food the body works how you want it to. The mind also works in a better way. The recovery is faster. Initially, I used to bowl 30 overs in a day and the next day I would get tired after an hour. I used to still bowl, but the effectiveness was less compared to what it is now... Earlier, my effort when I was bowling my 30th over, used to be less compared to when I was bowling my first 10 overs.” Udeshi admits.
The Mumbai-born cricketer, who has trained under renowned coach Vidya Paradkar and attended the Vengsarkar Cricket Academy, credits his parents for their unrelenting support during his journey despite his unusually late entry into senior-level cricket.
“They have always supported me and told me that ‘you have got the skill which is a bit different, so just believe in the process and keep working for it’.
With Pondicherry exiting the Ranji Trophy in the group stage, Player-of-the-Match Udeshi will be on the road again in April for his stint with the Netherfield Cricket Club in the United Kingdom.
“I am 36 years old. Thirty-five is the new 25. My goal now is to try and play as much cricket as I can and win some more games,” Udeshi said as he stole hurried glances at the pitch where he had tormented batters for one last time this season, but with the assurance that the wait wouldn’t be too long.