Kolkata: From being a non-entity in Bengal cricket till six years ago to emerging a hero this season it has been a rigourous yet rewarding journey for the low-profile pacer Mukesh Kumar, son of a migrant taxi driver from Bihar.
Pakistani great Waqar Younis did not find any worth in him when he appeared for trials, conducted by the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) under their ambitious ‘Vision 2020’ project in 2014.
Cut to 2020, Mukesh was carried on the shoulders Tuesday by fellow pacer Akash Deep after he helped Bengal reach Ranji Trophy final after a gap of 13 long years.
It sort of summed up duo’s story this season. They claimed 30 wickets each this season in Bengal’s success.
Mukesh was at his furious best in the semifinal against Karnataka, taking a career-best six for 61 in the second innings to lead his side to a crushing 174-run win.
Mukesh may have been rejected by Waqar, but Bengal bowling coach Ranadeb Bose has strongly backed him.
“I’ve seen him grow from nowhere. Mukesh Kumar is a story on its own. Waqar had rejected him from the ‘Vision 2020’ squad. I requested Waqar to pick him because I liked him. He even did not have a pair of shoes, and I had to arrange his spikes,” Bose said.
Mukesh did not play any cricket at competitive level and had malnutrition problem but convinced by Bose’s assessment CAB backed him fully.
“I called Sourav (Ganguly) to say that this boy did not have money to do an MRI. He was not a contracted player of CAB but the association went out of the way and took care of him. I told Sourav ‘he’s (Mukesh) got a future’. Ganguly agreed, he had a malnutrition problem so CAB spent money. We kept him in CAB accommodation, and he trained. And he really did work very hard,” Bose reminisced.
However, the next big task was to convince Ganguly to hand Mukesh a Ranji debut against a Virender Sehwag-captained Haryana in Lahli in 2015.
“Dadi (Sourav) said he does not even play first division club cricket in Kolkata. He was astounded that I wanted Mukesh in the Ranji Trophy squad,” Bose informed.
“It was a very very tough call, against Haryana. My job was at stake. Then at the end of day, the first wicket Mukesh got was that of Sehwag. It saved his career and my job. Since then he’s been brilliant,” added Bose.
Mukesh dismissed a well-set KL Rahul (26) cheaply in the first innings, while another India batsman Manish Pandey fell to him twice in the match.
On a day when first innings hero Ishan Porel lost his rhythm, Mukesh who normally does the holding job, went for the kill in a lethal spell of 9-4-28-5 en route his career best six-wicket haul as the star-studded Karnataka collapsed like a pack of cards inside two hours Tuesday.
“He (Mukesh) should immediately play India A. He’s better than anybody who’s playing India A. His fitness is unbelievable,” Bose pointed out.
“He’s got a fantastic release. He might not look like he’s not putting an effort but off the wicket he’s very skiddy. That’s where he’s special. One ball goes in and another out. That’s the biggest quality of a fast bowler if you can move off the wicket,” added Bose.
Mukesh Kumar who is unable to straighten his middle finger due to an injury he suffered long back, said it has actually proved to be blessing in disguise.
“In 2015-16 season, I broke my finger and it did not straighten up. Now it’s helping me getting the movement,” Mukesh pointed out.
Incidentally his late father Kashinath Singh, a taxi driver here, brought Mukesh to the city in early 2000s in search of a career.
“I wanted to join the Army or do a job but I chose cricket. Initially my father thought I would run away after getting to the rigours of cricket. He always would say ‘you are not good enough in cricket’. But I knew he wanted to bring out the best in me,” Mukesh fondly recalled.
Mukesh’s father died of a brain hemorrhage in December before the start of the season. “I got the full support of the team members. I dedicate this show to my father. I know he’s watching me from there,” Mukesh signed off with emotion choking his voice.
The migrant taxi driver’s son has indeed come a long way… a distance that the cab couldn’t have ever made. It couldn’t have been a better journey for Bengal’s unlikely ‘hero’. At least for now.
PNN & Agencies