The phone starts ringing as soon as Mahendrasinh Chauhan enters his small, dilapidated office on the ground floor of Cricket Bungalow, Jamnagar’s historic cricket ground.
In his early sixties, Chauhan takes out a small, old-fashioned phone from his pocket and engages in a conversation in Gujarati. Chauhan nods his head for most of the conversation. Just before hanging up, he says, “ Maari paase nathi… pan maari diary mah chhe (I don’t have it now, but it’s written in my diary).”
In the next few minutes, Chauhan brings out a small, worn-out leather diary from one of those ‘purane zamane ki’ cupboards and searches for a phone number. He turns a few pages before pointing his finger at a particular name and saying with a smile, “ Aa te chhe (Here it is).”
The number belongs to Ravindra Jadeja, India’s star all-rounder and Chauhan’s favourite ward.
“I don’t have his number saved on my phone. I don’t even know how to handle WhatsApp, so if anyone asks for his number, I need to find it in this diary,” Chauhan says with a smile.
The diary has been with Chauhan for about nine years, and in their association that goes back nearly three decades, Chauhan has never dialled Jadeja’s number. Rather, every time the all-rounder has been home in Jamnagar, he has made it a point to come and meet his ‘Mahendra sir.’
“Last year, when he was here for a long time during his recovery phase, we would meet almost every day. He would come down to the ground and spend some time with the youngsters,” says Chauhan. “But I have never called him, nor have I taken any favours from him. I don’t want to bother him unnecessarily, and that’s one of the reasons why I don’t have his number saved on my phone.”
Ever since Jadeja broke into the Indian team, Chauhan—as a matter of principle and not superstition—has not watched any of his matches on television. “ Jab koi bolta hai ke Ravindra ne achha kiya, woh sunn ne mein hi mujhe achha lagta hai (When someone tells me that Jadeja has done well, it gives me immense joy),” he says.
Whenever Jadeja features for the Indian team or dons the Chennai Super Kings colours in the Indian Premier League, a few of Chauhan’s friends call and provide regular updates about Revadi, as they fondly call Jadeja.
“Even if it’s in the middle of the night, they call me and inform me about his performance. That way, I stay updated even though I don’t watch him play on television,” Chauhan says.
India will play the much-hyped group-league fixture of the ODI World Cup against Pakistan at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, just an overnight train journey from Jamnagar. But Chauhan has no plans to visit the ground to watch his ward play his third ODI World Cup. “I will not change my routine,” he says. “The Indian team is going through a bit of a rough patch, but Ravindra has been fairly consistent. He is a seasoned campaigner now and is well aware of his job, so I am sure he will do well and guide the team to the top.”
As he talks about his ward, Chauhan keeps using the word bharosa (faith) every now and then. Having seen Jadeja overcome multiple challenges, the seasoned coach believes his mental toughness and ability to handle tricky situations have helped his dikra (son in Gujarati) come so far.
BACK IN THE DAY
Jadeja’s mother, Lataben, worked as a nurse at Guru Gobind Singh Hospital, and the family lived in a one-room flat allotted to her. There were struggles, but his father Anirudhsinh and Lata ensured that their children—Naina, Padmini, and Ravindra—were well taken care of. While the parents wanted to enrol him in the Sainik School in Balachadi, an eight-year-old Jadeja wanted to play cricket.
And that’s when Chauhan entered his life. An acquaintance of Jadeja’s father, Chauhan was a policeman who played a bit of cricket. He ran the Nawanagar Cricket Academy at the Cricket Bungalow, which back then was not quite as fancy as the name suggests.
It was a bare field with a small building serving as a pavilion, and Chauhan, who doesn’t have any coaching certificates, would train a handful of youngsters. For the locals, he was a soft-spoken gentleman, but for his wards, Mahendra Sir was a very strict disciplinarian.
“When his parents brought him here, he looked like a shy kid, and I was not convinced he could handle the pressure,” Chauhan says, sitting in his office on the ground floor of Cricket Bungalow. The walls have pictures of a young Jadeja placed diagonally opposite those of Ranjit Sinhji and Amar Singh, two of Jamnagar’s cricket icons.
Back then, Chauhan would make all students sign a contract, making it clear that the academy would not charge a penny from the wards, but there were also a few guidelines.
“I told the parents that I would not tolerate any nautanki (drama) and the kid has to listen to me,” Chauhan says with a smirk. “Even now, I write in the contract that players who drink or are addicted to gutkha and paan masala (chewing tobacco) will not be entertained. This clause was applicable even back then.” Chauhan also told the Jadejas that he would have the ‘licence’ to beat their son in case he failed to live up to expectations.
“I have not beaten anyone as much as Ravindra. Since I loved him, I could not tolerate any complaints against him, so if there were any complaints against Ravindra, I would rebuke him straightaway,” Chauhan says. “Even after he made it to the Indian team, I slapped him a few times, and he never complained. I feel this is all about the bonding you share. He knew agar sir maar rahein hain toh maine zaroor kuchh galti kiya hai (he knew if I punished him, he was at fault).”
The coach and student share a ‘ baap-bete ka rishta’ (father-son relationship). So much so that whenever Jadeja had time, he would rush to Trishali Bhajipaun, a small eatery run by Chauhan on the Vishwakarma Road, and help him out.
Jadhav bhai, who has been working at the eatery for the last 22 years, remembers how a young Revadi would help them out. “During festivals, there would be quite a bit of rush, and Ravindra would help us serve orders and even offer to help our staff manage the crowd,” Jadhav bhai says. “He did it all for his Mahendra Sir.”
There is no exaggeration in this backstory. In an interaction with Star Sports during the IPL this year, Jadeja said that since 1996, his journey has revolved around two Mahendras—Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Mahendrasinh Chauhan.
“When he joined in, I told his parents they should not entertain Ravindra’s excuses if he came back home and complained. They followed my advice,” Chauhan says. “When I was around, he would be very well behaved, and there were no complaints. But the moment I left the ground, he would climb trees, walk across the walls, and wander around the statue of Vinoo Mankad, which is located just outside the Cricket Bungalow.”
SLEEPWAKER NO MORE
Back then, young Jadeja also had the habit of sleepwalking. His mother first spotted the issue. Chauhan saw this firsthand when he took Jadeja to Mumbai to play local tournaments.
“Both the senior and junior teams went to Mumbai. There were nearly 30 players. There was another chap called Jatin who had a similar problem with sleepwalking. So, I knew that I had to handle the two,” Chauhan says.
After the team reached Mumbai, Jatin complained of homesickness and left. That very night, Chauhan spotted Jadeja’s sleeping disorder. “I asked him where he was going. He did not reply. I asked again, but there was no reply. I slapped him hard. From that day on, he has never sleepwalked,” the coach says.
Chauhan also shares his side of the incident when he slapped Jadeja in the middle of a match because he was not pitching the ball in the right areas. “He scalped a five-for in that fixture,” the coach remembers.
Jadeja soon made it to Saurashtra age-group teams and became a known name on the local circuit. Things were moving in the right direction for the family.
And Jadeja, who had a fascination for bikes, saved every bit of prize money earned in local tournaments to buy a two-wheeler. But the joy did not last long as Lata succumbed to burns suffered in a kitchen accident. Jadeja was hardly 16 then. “He was devastated,” says Chauhan. “His elder sister took care of him, and once he came to terms with it, he resumed training, and I told him to chase his dreams and make his mother happy. He looked at me and said that he would try.”
The youngster kept his word.
At the age of 17, he was picked for the 2006 U-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka along with Rohit Sharma and statemate Cheteshwar Pujara. While the tournament wasn’t a memorable one for Jadeja, he bounced back and was named vice-captain for the 2008 U-19 World Cup.
Another young talent, Virat Kohli, was the captain. The band of boys created history, clinching the title. Then came the IPL, and Jadeja’s life changed forever. In the inaugural edition, the young gun was picked by the Rajasthan Royals and caught the attention of Shane Warne, who was the captain and mentor of the team.
Over the next few weeks, Warne would go on to call Jadeja a ‘Rockstar’ and get the best out of him. The very next year, he donned Indian colours. Life was smooth but then came a nightmare.
Before the 2010 IPL, the Mumbai Indians showed interest in acquiring him. He reciprocated, thus breaking IPL rules. The then-in-charge, Lalit Modi, banned Jadeja for a year. “I had a long conversation with him and managed to convince him to get back into the groove. That phase taught him a lot and made him ready for top-level cricket,” says Chauhan.
Jadeja’s career graph took an upswing when the Chennai Super Kings bought him in 2012, and the Champions Trophy followed next year, where he played a game-changing role. While Dhoni helped the youngster walk in the right direction, the former India captain also gave Jadeja the much-needed confidence to back his skills.
“Under Dhoni’s leadership, he could spread wings,” says Chauhan.
Over the last six to seven years, Jadeja has been a game-changer for India, and as another ODI World Cup beckons, millions of fans hope the all-rounder, true to his potential, delivers. Sitting in his newly-built home in the heart of Jamnagar, Chauhan, too, will be impatiently waiting for updates from his friends about Revadi’s performances, with hope and a prayer!
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