D Raghavendra – or Raghu as he is known – recently hit the headlines when Virat Kohli singled him out for preparing the Indian batsmen to face some of the fastest men around the world with little fear or apprehension.
With slight build and shy-to-a-fault demeanour, Raghu belies the beast that he is during practice sessions of the Indian cricket team. Using the side-arm, he can hurl the ball at nearly 150 kph with the consistency of a bowling machine. Batsmen facing him will get tired but he doesn’t.
He has been an integral part of Indian batsmen’s overall progress against pace since 2011 and has received high praise from Sachin Tendulkar to Kohli. It’s a just reward for someone who wanted to be a cricketer but couldn’t due to a mishap. He didn’t want to give up on the game though. He knew cricket was his future; if not as a player then in some other role.
A teenaged Raghu realised life was no bed of roses when he left home in Kumta in Uttara Kannada to pursue his passion. After failing to get selected to the Dharwad U-19 team, Raghu decided to stay put in Hubballi.
With nowhere to go, the city bus stop was his home for two weeks before senior coach Shivanand Gunjal ended his misery. “I had seen him at a district-level tournament and was a decent off-spinner. So I decided to bring him to our BDK Sports Foundation,” Shivanand tells DH.
Living in the academy’s small equipment room, which was right opposite a graveyard, Raghu’s journey hit another roadblock when a freak hand injury affected his bowling action. He couldn’t bowl his off-spinners without chucking and his dream of becoming a cricketer had been crushed just like that. He then decided to focus on coaching.
“He shifted attention to coaching and began assisting me. We moved him to a college hostel,” says Shivanand. Following a five-year stint with Shivanand, Raghu landed in Bengaluru with bigger hopes. Here a former Karnataka cricketer helped him get an assignment with an academy. The same cricketer took him to Karnataka Ranji ‘nets’.
This led to his steady rise - from the KSCA academy to the National Cricket Academy, where he impressed Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar with his throwdown skills, to the Indian team. There was no looking back for Raghu.
Raghu has got lucrative offers from England and a few IPL teams to join them, but he has stood by the Indian team.
“His complete dedication stands out,” says Shivanand. “Even though we would start training from 6:30 am, he would wake up at 5:30 am and run for one hour. He is grounded. During several foreign tours with the Indian team, he didn’t forget to call me.”
The 35-year-old is admired and respected in the Indian team for his multiple abilities. Apart from throwdowns, he is skilled in logistics. “He always showed interest in learning new things. Earlier, we didn’t know what throwdowns were. He was good at fielding drills and fitness training. He was fascinated about different aspects of coaching. Only when he moved to the NCA did he master throwdowns with the equipment.”
For someone who has persevered through several hardships, Raghu believes in simplicity. “I am amazed how even today, he mostly travels in buses and autos. Right from the start, he looked like someone who will achieve something big. It’s heartening to see him successful and even more satisfying to see him handle fame with such grace,” says Shivanand.