Living out his dream

Living out his dream

personality

As Mukesh Kumar, the red-hot Bengal pacer, entered the final year of his teenage, his father summoned him to Kolkata. An unsuspecting Mukesh, too, landed up in the City of Joy from Gopalganj, a village in Bihar, thinking his dad had some plans for him. Little did he know that his dad would ask him to drive a taxi to help him run the family.

Mukesh was left stumped at his dad’s suggestion. Although he wasn’t doing anything worthwhile at that point in time and didn’t harbour any major dreams, Mukesh was certain about one thing - he didn’t want to become a taxi driver like his father. He sought a year’s permission to find his own way and if he couldn’t, he promised he would accede to his father’s demand.

With just the basic education, Mukesh wondered what to do. Ideas weren’t flowing in his mind either. So he wandered on to Victoria ground, a hub of cricketing activity in Kolkata. It was around 2012. He played the sport casually as a kid in his village and thought of giving it a try. He had no proper shoes but he turned up daily and kept hurling balls. Virender Singh, one of the coaches there, liked what he saw of Mukesh and offered him a chance to play for his club in second division in 2013. Mukesh, now 26, excelled and caught the eyes of many with his raw talent.

However, the big question was the livelihood as Mukesh was barely earning anything playing club cricket. Pressure grew on him to take the driving job. That was when then the Cricket Association of Bengal joint secretary Sourav Ganguly’s Vision 2020 programme was taking wings. Apart from conducting trials to spot budding talents across the State, Ganguly had hired greats VVS Laxman (batting), Muttiah Muralitharan (spin) and Waqar Younis (pace) to groom them.

Mukesh turned up for one of the trials in 2013 and Ranadeb Bose, the current Bengal team's bowling coach who was deeply involved with Vision 2020, liked the sight of Mukesh and wanted to induct him into the academy. But Younis was not impressed. Mukesh was frail and malnourished and given the fact that he hadn’t played much cricket in the growing up years, Younis questioned Bose’s decision.

“Mukesh is somebody I felt was unbelievably good,” revealed Bose. “I saw him in the Vision 2020 nets with no spikes, bowling fast just with his trainers. Waqar was not 100 percent sure about Mukesh turning into a good pacer. But I had a good rapport with Waqar and requested him to induct him into the academy. Waqar trusted my instincts and allowed Mukesh to stay in the academy. Ganguly, too, had his reservations because Mukesh had not played any age-group cricket but he agreed.”

One of the reasons why Bose wanted him at the academy was the finances required to polish the ‘uncut gem'. Apart from his weak physical structure, Mukesh was also suffering from bone marrow edema in his left leg. Treatment was expensive and Mukesh couldn’t have afforded it. But Mukesh being part of the academy would mean CAB would take care of the medicals and lodging.

At the academy, Mukesh, delighted at having a got a new lease of life, worked hard on repaying the trust and confidence Bose had reposed in him. He followed his programme sincerely and then started to make an impression in under-23 cricket. Bose knew his gamble was paying off and wanted to raise the stakes, blood him into Ranji Trophy for the 2015-16 season.

“I again went back to Sourav at the start of the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy season and asked him if I can play him. Sourav told me ‘are you mad? He hasn’t even played club cricket.’ I again told Sourav that he was good but he wasn’t convinced. Thankfully Laxman was there in that meeting and he vouched for Mukesh. When Laxman backed Mukesh, Sourav was convinced. Coach Sairaj Bahutule had to be convinced as he had his own reservations. Thankfully we made him play against Haryana in Lahli. He got four wickets (in the first innings), including the great Virender Sehwag. He saved my career!”

Mukesh today has become Bengal’s lead pacer, marshalling and mentoring a young attack brilliantly in the absence of out-of-favour Ashok Dinda. With 30 wickets this Ranji Trophy and the sizzling spell in the second innings against Karnataka in the semifinal, he has become the talk of the town. Mukesh, though basking in the limelight, remembers all the hardship and the people who believed in him.

“I was nobody when I came to Kolkata. All thanks to my brother Ranadeb bhai, I’ve become what I am today. Had he not believed in me and convinced CAB, I would have been driving a cab,” an emotional Mukesh told DH. “There are so many people who have helped me in my journey, like Manoj Tiwary who gifted me my first cricket kit. Even when I was part of the academy, I didn’t believe much in myself. But a motivational speech by Waqar bhai, changed my mindset. He told me even I’m from a small district, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about the heart to fight. And of course, CAB for investing so much in me. Finally, my dad too. When I told him I didn’t want to be a taxi driver, he was very understating. And when I wanted to be a cricketer and things were very difficult, he constantly kept motivating me.”

Mukesh, who still maintains a very low profile, now wants to win the coveted Ranji Trophy, for Bengal and for himself. “To all who stood by me during my tough times, winning the Ranji Trophy would be the best return gift.”

Whether Mukesh wins the Ranji Trophy or not, one thing is certain — his rise from a malnourished kid with little cricketing background to becoming the leading star of an impressive Bengal pace attack is one of the inspiring tales of this domestic season.

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