Every underdog has his day

Vineet Saxena has made a name for himself, this season.-V. GANESAN

Rajasthan batsman Vineet Saxena's story is one such. After losing his father, baby daughter, and his job, all in the space of three months, Saxena has found solace on the cricket field. Over to Arun Venugopal.

Everyone loves a good underdog tale. But despite the innervating effect such yarns produce, merely attempting to put oneself in the shoes of the ‘underdog' can put cocooned existences into context.

Rajasthan batsman Vineet Saxena's story is one such. His opening partner Aakash Chopra's book ‘Out of the Blue' tells us how Saxena lost his father, baby daughter, and his job, all in the space of three months.

“Cricket was no longer about scoring runs; it was the only way to keep his family going. Failure was no longer an option,” writes Chopra. That was two summers ago.

On a warm Monday afternoon in Chennai this January, Saxena is the toast of his mates after his time-defying 257 ensured the Ranji Trophy remained out of Tamil Nadu's grasp. Yet, his eyes are damp as he reminisces about those ‘dark days'.

“Those were the darkest days of my life,” says the 31-year-old. “But time never remains still. Things are a lot better now and this knock in the final is one of the biggest highs of my career.”

With 10 hundreds at an average of 36.97 in 78 first-class matches, Saxena has been a bit of an underachiever, no? “Yes, I have underachieved,” he admits. “I had a good first season but my graph dipped from then on. But I am making an earnest effort to score runs for my team. I have been doing well from 2007-08 and I hope it continues for a while.”

Such candour is rare, we tell him. “I have always been straightforward. That's my natural instinct — to see things as black or white but never grey,” says Saxena, who finished as the second highest run-getter in this year's Ranji Trophy with 897 runs, including two centuries and five fifties at 52.76. So, what's been the secret of his bounteous run this season?

“Technique and temperament have certainly been crucial aspects of my game this year. Apart from that, I have remained physically fit and my training routine has helped me immensely. I have also set a few goals for myself ahead of the coming season.” What would they be? “I would like to keep them to myself,” Saxena smiles shyly.

Like most sportsmen, Saxena seeks solace in a supportive family. “My parents supported me totally even as a kid. There was no family pressure on me to do things I didn't want to. My coach Dinesh Jaiman has also helped me out a lot. He has mentored me during the toughest phases of my life. I have really been fortunate to have such people around me.”

Saxena has also found encouragement from Rajasthan's big three — Skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Chopra, and Rashmi Ranjan Parida. “Their contribution to Rajasthan's victory has been tremendous. They are wonderful individuals who are always ready to help out others in the side. Hrishi bhaiyya, especially, guided me a lot. Whenever I made a mistake, he would immediately point it out and help me rectify it. Interacting with such experienced players is always a huge plus.”

Coming back to his double ton in the final, what was his state of mind as he continued batting for two days? “I was drained physically and mentally. Towards the end of the second day, I thought ‘this is really tough'. But I had to keep going. The most difficult part was to not lose patience. It was satisfying in the end.”

Saxena's concluding remarks amply demonstrate cricket's profound influence on his life: “The best thing cricket teaches you is to control the controllables. This applies in real life too. One day you are right up there, another day, you come crashing down. It's that balance in life that we strive for and that's what cricket teaches me.”