Sunil’s tale of grit, guts and glory

Sunil Ramesh Kumar

It was a Sunday in 2005. Sunil Ramesh Kumar remembers this day as well as he does his mother’s birthday. Not that they celebrated any birthdays in a household marked by holes in the roof, rats for ignoring and spoilt rice with pepper water for supper, but the occasional candy would be shared and that was memorable enough.  

That day, however, Sunil’s able-bodied poverty turned to a luxury. He was barely in his teens. This wasn’t about the next meal or the candles needed to cover for the lack of electricity. It was about an accident, a horrific one, which would change the course of Sunil’s very essence, and, in turn, his family’s.   

As the sun began to set over a grass-less patch the locals called a pitch, Sunil ignored the tall wild grass in the periphery and chased a high ball. Cricket was still new to him, but he was already good with the bat, better yet on the field. With reputation at stake and legs powered by haste, he sprinted. 

What happened between his last step and the melee to the hospital on the shoulders of friends, he recalls as if describing the lines on his palms. “I tripped on grass and I fell on an exposed iron rod which was rusted. They were building a compound wall, it was white with distemper, and it wasn’t fully done. I went cold. I remember feeling like I had a high fever. I knew the rod had pierced me and I could feel the pain, but I didn’t know what was happening. I had fallen a lot while playing but even then, I knew this was going to be bad.”

“But I did not think I was never going to see again,” he added.

The TMT rod had speared through Sunil’s right eye socket, rendering him blind in the eye immediately. So young and innocent was he that he peeled himself off of the rod, exposing his blank socket and bloody face to friends, who already expected the worst from an incident they are yet to forget.

“My friends didn’t know what to do. I only got scared after looking at their reaction,” Sunil reminisced. “As soon as that happened, all I could think of was how my parents would handle it. They are daily wage workers. They never had money for anything, food was hard enough and now this.” 

Sunil, born in Guddaduru village about 25 kms from Chikkamagaluru, was now fully blind in one eye and was admitted to Asha Kiran Blind School upon the insistence from Kumar Naik (his school teacher). His parents, who it tough enough already, had to work on several estates to cover costs for the surgery and the subsequent rehabilitation process. 

“While recovering at the blind school, I started playing cricket again. I didn’t have much else to do,” said Sunil. 

Cricket remained a pastime until seeds of seriousness were sown on hearing about cricketers from the State represent India. “By now, the vision in my left eye was beginning to fade. When there’s a lot of pressure on one eye, it starts losing sight quickly. Now, I can barely see with my left eye,” he tells you. 

Tired of his contemporaries and neighbours treating him as they would an invalid, Sunil had a choice to make. Take cricket seriously enough to make a career out of it and silence the naysayers for good or listen without response. He chose rebellion.  

“Of course I was scared,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what to do with life. I didn’t know where I was going to go with it. I wanted to be a cricketer and even that I didn’t think was possible because when you’re born in a place like mine, you don’t think about doing big things. You only think about the next tennis ball tournament you are going to play in and what your next meal is. In your head, though, you think about playing for India.”

He got it a step closer after being selected for the State team in the B3 category in 2013, and in 2016 his dream of playing for India was realised when he was called up for the Asia Cup.  

“Once again, you’re thinking ‘how can a boy from a village like mine play for India?!”

Content, Sunil went on playing without the next step in sight. As far as he was concerned, playing for India was good enough. Then came the call to represent India in the T20 World Cup, and earlier this year, another which intimated that he was going to lead the Indian side.  

“I had no clue I would become the captain of the Indian team after only a few years of serious cricket. I knew I was good by now, but captaincy… No. It came as a big surprise to me. But honestly, I think the T20 World Cup is the one that shaped me. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know where I would be now. It really put me on the map,” he says. 

A couple of weeks ago, Sunil scored a double-century to further establish his name as one of the best India has produced. Fact is, though, he doesn’t care about the status achieved. Besides the fact that this 21-year-old still reckons everyone else in the team better than him, he is more about repaying the hands which cradled him when in need. “I do everything to help my parents. That is all I care about. Cricket is important but family comes first.”

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