Indian cricket has been besieged with all that is bad about how the game is administered, tales of mismanagement and corruption, backhanders and nepotism gathering such momentum that judges constantly berated the cricketing powers that be before passing stern judgment. But, at the recent Indian Premier League auction the other side of this beautiful game emerged.
To take only three examples, there was Thangarsasu Natarajan, the left-arm seam bowler from Chinnapampatti near Salem in Tamil Nadu, who went from being unknown to bagging a contract worth Rs 3 crore annually.
Natarajan’s father worked as a porter and his mother sold snacks on the side of a highway to make ends meet. Mohammad Siraj, a right arm fast bowler from Hyderabad, hated the fact that his father had spent nearly 30 years driving an auto rickshaw to support his family.
That profession was shelved once the Deccan Chargers forked out Rs 2.3 crore for Siraj. In three seasons Karnataka had not picked K Gowtham in their Ranji Trophy team, choosing instead to plump for Udit Patel, whose father, coincidentally was a powerful man in the state association. In his comeback season Gowtham bagged wickets aplenty and the Rs 2 crore IPL payday that followed will go towards buying a house for his parents.
In a country where breaking the cycle of poverty is often impossible, cricket has had a genuinely transformative effect on the lives of many individuals desperately in need of a lucky break. And, on Thursday at the Maharastra Cricket Association Stadium, one such individual, who changed the destiny of his family by hurling a cricket ball at speed, paid rich dividends for the faith cricket had invested in him.
For 27 overs, Umesh Yadav, picked as a newball bowler, bided his time in the outfield as Virat Kohli chose to press forward with spin on a pitch that Ravi Shastri thought might be in need of a dermatologist rather than a curator.
Off his second ball, Yadav struck, a good length ball on a decent line inviting the shot from David Warner and the pace causing the batsman to be just late enough to inside edge onto the stumps. It wasn’t the most piercing delivery Yadav had ever bowled, but it broke an 82-run opening partnership.
Yadav is used to coming to the party late and making it count. Growing up in Valli, a settlement of approximately 5,000 people near Khaparkheda, a mining region close to India’s geographical dead centre, Nagpur, Yadav had not bowled with a leather ball till he was out of his teens. Since Yadav’s father did not want his sons to follow him down the shafts to the relatively primitive mines he worked in, the youngster tried to join the police, but just missed the cut. This was cricket’s greatest blessing. From fooling around with tennis balls as a 19-year-old, Yadav was playing for India at 22.
If the transformation off the field was a dramatic one, the metamorphosis from raw tearaway who landed too few balls in the right areas to a potent force capable of channelling the dark art of reverse swing was more somnolent. But, in the seven years since he made his debut, Yadav’s bowling mind has undergone several awakenings.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni used Yadav defensively, having him bowl wide of the stumps, drying up the runs and forcing batsmen into a drowsy stupor that cost them their wickets. Since Kohli has taken the reins, however, Yadav has been deployed as a spear, in the absence of a true spearhead in an attack that the captain changes for virtually every Test.
In the 76th over the day, Yadav was strong enough to send down a 140kmh delivery that sent Matthew Wade on his way, ball hitting pad before the bat could come down. In the 82nd over, Yadav was still powering through, Steve O’ Keefe nicking for Wriddhiman Saha to take a screamer and Nathan Lyon fell first ball a seaming delivery coming in at pace to trap him in front.
On a crackled pitch that was meant to be tailormade for spinners, Yadav had 4 for 32, the best figures of the day. How’s that for giving back to the game that has changed your life forever?
(This column first appeared in the Economic Times on February 24, 20117)