From battling poverty and many failures along the way, read the inspiring stories of seven young Indian cricketers who fought tooth and nail to make India proud in the Gabba Test of the Border-Gavaskar Series in Australia.
The date 19 January 2021 will long remain in the minds of a billion Indian cricket fans as the day when the Indian team secured their greatest Test match victory against Australia at the Brisbane Cricket Ground (The Gabba). This was a team ravaged by injury, without its captain/star batsman Virat Kohli and with a third-string bowling unit.
Despite all the hurdles put before them, they won this Test match, the first match Australia has lost at The Gabba in 32 years, by three wickets and clinched the series 2-1 in Australia’s own backyard. Led by stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane, this team combatted everything that came at them. One look at the backgrounds of some of the young stars who stepped up for India in this match and it isn’t surprising how they could withstand all that pressure.
Here are seven such cricket stars who made their mark in this Test match:
Mohammed Siraj: The fast bowler from Hyderabad, who picked up five wickets in Australia’s first innings, lost his father Mohammed Ghouse to a lung ailment just before the Test series began.
“My dad’s wish was always this — mera beta, desh ka naam roshan karna (my son, you should make my country proud). And, I will do that for sure,” said the fast bowler in an interview with Sportstar.
Siraj, the son of an uneducated auto rickshaw driver, spent his childhood playing galli cricket in the narrow bylanes of Toli Chowki in Hyderabad. From ruling the bylanes of Toli Chowki to destroying the Australian batting line up at The Gabba with his fiery pace, he has come a long way.
Shubman Gill: The dashing opening batsman from Chak Jaimal Singh Wala village near Jalalabad, Punjab, struck a crucial and elegant 91 runs and set up the foundation for India’s remarkable second-innings chase of 324. For Shubman to reach where he is today, his father, Lakhwinder, a farmer, left with his son for Mohali when he was just 7 years old.
“I grew up in a small village in Punjab where my dad began coaching me from a very young age. To make sure I practised cricket every day, he’d call the neighbours’ kids to bowl — bribing them to take me out, but they never could! I won my first cricket match when I was 9 years old. It was just a local match, but I can never forget how it felt! Dad always believed that I’d make a good batsman someday. So when I was 7, we moved to Mohali — where I could get more opportunities to play,” he told Humans of Bombay.
T Natarajan: From Chinnappampatti village, which is 35 km away from Salem city in Tamil Nadu, to making his Test debut for India at The Gabba, Natarajan has endured an extraordinary journey. The son of a power loom worker and road-side shop owner, this left-arm seamer from the interiors of Tamil Nadu was first noticed by A Jayaprakash, a small businessman and friend from Salem.
“In my younger days, I used to play tennis ball cricket in my hometown. I would play under Jayaprakash anna and he had a friend who used to play for BSNL in the TNCA fourth division league and also played tennis ball cricket with us. He was the one who saw the talent in me and told Jayaprakash anna that I have a good future in it and asked me to give it a try. Jayaprakash anna convinced me to join the club. If not for him, I would have been working somewhere else. If I wasn’t a cricketer, I would be a coolie to take care of my livelihood,” he told Sportskeeda in an interview.
Washington Sundar: Years from now, if someone were to ask me two moments that defined this Test match, it would be the two sixes Washington Sundar hit in this Test Match — one of spinner Nathan Lyon in the first innings and one of fast bowler Pat Cummins in the second innings. Both shots evoked a calm confidence about this team’s ability to overcome massive hurdles under pressure. As a teenager, he too overcame his personal obstacle to make it to the highest levels of international cricket. He almost didn’t make it as a cricketer.
At the age of 17, following a difficult maiden Ranji Trophy season for Tamil Nadu, he was dropped from his state team for the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament. “I honestly did fear a lot about how my life was going to be, how my career was going to be, where am I going to end up in the next five years? I did have a lot of fear,” he said in an interview with The Telegraph. But he had the strength to continue and make his mark on Indian cricket.
Rishabh Pant: With a 23 in the first innings and an 89 not out in the second, Rishabh took India home to its greatest Test match victory in recent memory.
A batsman of great courage and panache, Rishabh began his journey of playing for India by travelling with his mother on a night bus to Delhi from Roorkee in Uttarakhand every weekend. In Delhi, he and his mother would find shelter in a Gurdwara at Moti Bagh, where they would spend the night. In the morning, he would go off and practice at the Sonnet cricket academy, while his mother would serve food at the Gurdwara.
“There were lots of such struggles in those days. My mother would not even sleep in the bus. Night bus journeys in India aren’t safe for women but she would make sure I get some sleep before practice,” he told The Indian Express.
Shardul Thakur: A bowling all-rounder who proved his mettle in this Test match, Thakur began his journey travelling 90 km everyday from his home in Palghar to Mumbai on a train. Starting his day at 3.30 am, he would catch the train at 4 am and arrive at the ground by 7.30 am. He was also once dropped by the Mumbai Under-19 team for being overweight, a fact that even his idol, Sachin Tendulkar, pointed out, according to Scroll.in. After a forgettable first class season with Mumbai, he shed 13 kilos and transformed himself into one of India’s most promising young fast bowlers.
Navdeep Saini: Although an injury hampered his performance in this Test match, the very fact that he even made it this far is a testament to his character. Growing up, his father who was a driver for Haryana government officials, could not afford expensive cricket coaching for his son.
To fund his cricket dreams, Saini played exhibition tennis ball matches at Rs 200 to Rs 300 per match. He used that money to enroll in try-outs of the Karnal Premier League, organised by Delhi seamer Sumit Narwal. After he was spotted by the Delhi cricketer, it was former India opener Gautam Gambhir who really encouraged his talent.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)