"Sold for three hundred (₹3 crore). Thank you, Sunrisers Hyderabad!” announced former Indian Premier League gavel master Richard Madley, breaking the tense silence in the auction room in Bengaluru in January 2018. The ceremonial mallet had been struck.
Back in Rajasthan, the Tonk Cricket Academy erupted in joy with the news of one of its pupils’ breakthrough into a new IPL side. And there wouldn’t have been anyone happier than the compounder, who had once decided to make sure his son would never be subjected to the kind of hardships he himself had gone through in life.
Khursheed Ahmed, father of Khaleel Ahmed, one of India’s newest and most consistent left-arm medium pacers, does not hold back anything when he says he had not supported Khaleel’s passion for the game at all.
“Like any other parent, I thought that was the time for some quality education and not playing cricket,” says Khursheed. But that one December morning was enough to change Khursheed’s perspective when he realised that very soon it might turn out that he would get to bask in his son’s glory. “And there is nothing that would make me happier,” confesses the proud father.
Last IPL, when he made waves playing under Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the Chennai Super Kings, Deepak Chahar was yet to make his India debut. An ability to swing the new ball both ways helped him grab 10 wickets in 12 games at an economy rate of 7.28.
Deepak’s younger cousin, leg-spinner Rahul — he was a member of the Under-19 Indian team that won the World Cup — was roped in by Mumbai Indians for a whopping ₹ 1.9 crore ‘leaving the house divided’ on which team to support.
Deepak’s father Lokendra Singh has overseen the duo’s training. “I have prepared a schedule for both of them [Deepak and Rahul]. They begin the day with physical exercises from 7-10 a.m. followed by nets which last for three hours from 3-6 p.m. Then the boys hit the gym for an hour before ending the day with a session under lights,” reveals Lokendra.
“My father has put in a lot of work on me and Rahul. Our dream is to make him proud,” says Deepak.
Both are part of squads that have won the IPL three times each and would hope to use this opportunity as a launchpad to greener pastures.
Shubman Gill, the Player of the Tournament at last year’s Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, was picked by the Kolkata Knight Riders for ₹1.8 crore ahead of the 2018 season.
Last year in the IPL, Shubman scored 203 runs from 13 matches at an average of 33.83 and a strike rate of 146.04. An unbeaten 57 off 36 balls against the eventual champion Chennai Super Kings raised his stakes.
The 19-year-old’s rapid ascent to the senior team saw him replace K. L. Rahul in India’s ODI and T20I squads for the New Zealand tour early this year. His first act was to go to the next room, where his parents were sleeping. “I woke my father up to tell him. He was up as soon as I told him.”
Lakhwinder Singh Gill, father of Shubman, has played a big role in his upbringing as a cricketer. Around 2007, Lakhwinder Gill moved with his family from the hinterlands of Chak Kherewala — a village in Punjab’s Jalalabad — to Mohali with the sole aim of grooming his seven-year-old son in the nitty-gritty of the sport.
“It was a big step for my father,” says Shubman. “He had to leave his parents behind so he could help me hone my skills in a conducive environment,” he adds.
As a child, Shubman used to practise on a cement strip which his father had arranged for, to further facilitate his training. “The bats they used to sell in shops were quite heavy, so my grandfather used to carve a willow from the peepal tree. He has all those bats in his collection,” recalls Shubman.
For the right-hand batsman, who grew up idolising Virat Kohli, and who was handed his ODI cap by M.S. Dhoni, the journey from backyard dreams to competing in the highest echelons of the game has just begun.
Weeks after featuring in his second inter-school cricket tournament final — the Harris Shield (U-16) final in 2008 — Shivam Dube walked into the Wankhede Stadium along with his father Rajesh to watch the Mumbai Indians take on Kings XI Punjab to experience the Indian Premier League (IPL) glitz for the first time, in the T20 league’s inaugural edition.
Around the same time, the teenager whose girth was more prominent than his unusual height for a boy his age had started dealing with various issues that would sideline him from competitive cricket for almost five years. While Dube Sr. was struggling to keep his milk business afloat in suburban Mumbai, Shivam was struggling with a back injury that resulted in him being unable to pursue his passion.
“His backache was more disturbing. Not just for himself but also for the whole family,” recalls Pooja, Shivam’s elder sister, preferring to not revisit the financial hardships. “He loved cricket and both he and papa were obsessed with his cricket but with the injury, he could neither bat nor bowl. It was tough, but thankfully he came back on track. It took some time, but he came through it stronger and fitter.”
Before the break, Shivam — despite having the natural ability of hitting clean and straight, a trait that has been instrumental in him fetching ₹5 crore at the IPL auction — was more effective in inter-school cricket. In 2007, he had starred with the ball to lead Hansraj Morarji Public School’s title run in the Giles Shield (U-14).
Once Shivam returned to the field in 2012-13, joining the nursery of Satish Samant at Karnatak Sporting Association, his bowling remained more or less effective, but it was his batting that reached greater heights.
But Samant, one of the renowned coaches on Mumbai maidans, doesn’t take credit for it. “There are cricketers who know what to work on and keep at it and there are a few, who a coach has to work on for hours and hours. He belonged to the first category,” says Samant. “He would quietly keep working on his game and didn’t really need much guidance. We just had to give him the right exposure at the right time.”
Not only was Shivam making great strides on the field but the family had also got back on its feet. Despite his uncle having become a corporator, Shivam didn’t let the rising stature on and off the field go to his head and has remained largely a reserved person. Pooja agrees with it but stresses that he isn’t boring.
“Yes, he doesn’t open up to many but you ask his friends and they will tell you how mischievous and caring he can be to the people he is attached to,” she says. “And please don’t take me back to fist-fights that we would have during our childhood like most brother-sister combos.”
Shivam will yet again enter Wankhede, not with his father, but for a first IPL experience as a cricketer. He would be hoping to make his family proud by coming good in Royal Challengers Bangalore colours.
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