Mukesh Kumar’s journey from Bihar to Delhi Capitals
Delhi Capitals signed fast bowler Mukesh Kumar, 29, for Rs 5.5 crore ($660,000) a day after the IPL auction in Kochi. He’s been receiving congratulations and media calls nonstop. Mukesh, who got the second-highest bid for an uncapped athlete, can’t believe it.
His heart and thoughts are at Gopalganj, his home town in rural Bihar, while he’s in recovery in Bengaluru.
His “happy place” is the farm. Any place with fresh air. There’s peace.
“After 10 days of therapy, I’m bowling today,” he says. “It’s thrilling. “Hard-to-explain”
Mukesh’s first IPL auction was Sunday. Friend’s frantic calls saved him from missing the big event.
“I watched the auction and then the India-Bangladesh Test,” he says. “When I called my mom, I continued getting missed-call alerts. Something was up when my friend kept contacting me. Did you see?
“So I switched back to the auction, but I still couldn’t believe it was my name, because so many times before I was told I had a strong chance but my name never came up. “I couldn’t believe it until I saw my photo next to my name.”
Several times, he pauses. “Bittersweet,” he admits. “God gives and takes. I never thought I’d see this much money in my lifetime, yet my father and uncle, who I should be sharing this with, are dead.
Stroke killed Mukesh’s father two years ago. His bade papa, father’s older brother, who supported him when he went to Kolkata in 2012, died in November.
“I’ll never forget my father’s excitement when I presented him my Ranji allowance. Wish I’d given him more. But now, I can’t. Hence my tears. Money isn’t everything.
Mukesh studied for three years to pass the tests to join the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Bihar police. In 2012, he finally passed the written tests, but he was turned down because he wasn’t fit. About this time, he made a serious decision to switch to cricket.
In action against New Zealand A earlier this year in Bengaluru. In the first innings of the first match, Mukesh took 5 wickets for 86 runs.
Bihar wasn’t allowed to play in India’s most important domestic tournaments, so Mukesh didn’t have a chance to play in his home state. He worked as a paid tennis-ball cricket player for fun. He played in tournaments with prize money that was enough to cover his basic needs. But when he had a bike accident during one of these tournaments in Bihar, his father, who had been running a taxi service in Kolkata since 2003, decided it was time to step in and asked him to move to the city.
“He told me in no uncertain terms that from now on, everything I do, whether it’s cricket or something else, will only happen in Kolkata and nowhere else. He was keeping an eye on me “Mukesh says. “Even though I wasn’t very serious about it, I signed up for a graduation program that I could do from home. I just wanted to show my dad that I was doing my homework.
“My dad thought, “Okay, this guy will play cricket, find out how hard it is to get anywhere in Kolkata, and give up.” And when he finishes school, I can try to find him a job somewhere.’ I guess he was wrong. Because I became more and more interested in serious red-ball cricket.”
Mukesh first went to the prestigious Kalighat Club, but he was sent away. He was told by a club official that he would have to work as a bartender for at least two years before he would even be considered because “only the big players play here.” Mukesh then went to the Bani Niketan Sports Club, where he met Birendra Singh. Birendra Singh was his trainer and later became his mentor.
“In my first game for Bani Niketan, a second-division league game, I took six wickets,” he says. “The next year, I moved up to a team in the first division. But I couldn’t play as often because my dad’s health was getting worse. He really wanted me to get a job and become more stable. I said, “Give me another year,” and kept playing.
Around this time, in the middle of 2014, Sourav Ganguly, who was then the secretary of the Cricket Association of Bengal, announced his Vision 2020 program to pick talented cricketers to help Bengal become a powerhouse in domestic cricket. Waqar Younis, Muthiah Muralidaran, and VVS Laxman were brought in for the program to help local coaches narrow down a group of players who could then be trained over time. Birendra suggested that Mukesh be let into the trials, where he had to compete with more than 300 other people.
“At the end of the trials, there were only four or five bowlers left, but I got called when I went to the bathroom,” Mukesh says. “Since no one replied, my name was taken off the list. I had to literally beg Rono da [Ranadeb Bose, an ex-Bengal seamer who helped run the trial] to give me a chance.
“I knew I only needed four or five balls to change things. I found out that I had been chosen later that evening. So, it was a good thing that I stood all day in the sun.” It turned out that Bose had told Waqar about Mukesh’s case.
“I thought there was something about him when I saw him bowl,” says Bose. “Waqar wasn’t sure, but I asked him to do it. ‘Bhai, rakh lo’ [Let’s keep him]. “Are you sure?” he asked. And I said, ‘Mere ko achha lag raha hai.’ [I like him] He said, ‘Theek.’
“Even I might have missed him at the end of a long day. But I went behind the nets to get a cup of tea by chance. So I could watch him from behind the batter, and I thought he was pretty good.”
Getting through the trials was only the first step. The next step was to meet the fitness requirements. During this time, it was discovered that Mukesh had fluid buildup in his knees (called bone edema) and that he was anemic. It meant he had to spend more time in hospitals and rehab centers and had to miss three games for every one he played.
“CAB helped me a lot during this time. They got me MRIs, paid my medical bills, and even let me stay in their housing,” he says. “I don’t think I would have made it without their help. Between 2014 and 2015, I did nothing but rehab for eight months. It was really hard. At times, I thought it might be best to go back to the village. I wanted to try, though. If it didn’t work, it didn’t work. I had to at least give it a shot.”
In 2015, Mukesh made his Ranji Trophy debut against Haryana in Lahli. This was after he got back in shape and did well in club tournaments.
Before the game, there was growing unhappiness on the Bengal team because an injury-prone “outsider” was chosen over several state regulars. Bose, who was the bowling coach, stood up for Mukesh with the help of Laxman and the head coach, Sairaj Bahutule.
Mukesh got rid of the first batsman, Rahul Dewan, and then he got rid of Virender Sehwag. He ended up taking five wickets in the game. Bose says, “He saved my job.”
That season, Mukesh played in four games. In 2016–17, he only played two games before getting hurt. When he was healthy again, he had lost his form, so he went back to club cricket. Even though he was healthy, he only played one game the next season. Bengal already had Mohammed Shami and Ashok Dinda, so it was hard for him to make the team as a fast bowler. In the 2018-19 season, he played five games and took 22 wickets. The following season, he was a real part of a good pace attack. He got ten games because he had done well in club cricket. It helped that Dinda had left the team after getting into a fight with the team’s management and leaving a spot open. The national selectors were impressed by Mukesh’s control of the ball and his ability to move it around on different surfaces. He took 32 wickets, which was a lot.
In the semi-final, Mukesh got 6 for 61 in the second innings against a Karnataka team that included KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Devdutt Padikkal, and Karun Nair, among others. This put Bengal in the position to play for the title.
“That season was a turning point, but Covid struck within two weeks, right when the selectors had told me I would play in the Duleep Trophy and Irani Cup. And we were back to where we started.”
During his forced downtime, he worked on his endurance and ran cross-country to get in better shape. “After seeing Ben Stokes and Steven Smith do a charity run, I even ran 20 km in two hours,” he says. “I might not have been able to do that even five years ago. Today, I’m in much better shape.”
Mukesh made it into the India A team for the home series against New Zealand A earlier this year. In the second unofficial Test earlier this month, he took 6 wickets for 40 runs while playing for India A. In between his two stints, he was picked for the home series against South Africa as an ODI player. Even though he didn’t play, the fact that he made a mark like that even though he hadn’t played in the IPL yet makes his journey even more special.
The biggest change Mukesh has made in the last three years is that he is no longer only known for his red-ball exploits. At the IPL, he wants to build on this. But he’s looking forward to going home to see his mother before he gets there.
He says, “I want to show her the whole country.” “We went to Shirdi not long ago. I gave her a tour of a temple. That makes her happy, and if I take her, I’ll be happy too.
“”What will you do with so much money?” people have asked. I don’t have any big dreams, as you can see. I love working in the fields to grow crops and do farming.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to eat with family while sitting on the floor. When I’m not on the field, that makes me very happy. It’s not a hard life.
“If I want to go back to farming in my village after cricket, I might be able to make my dream come true by investing the money. But all of that will have to wait. Now I just want to get in shape and play as much cricket as I can.”
De Zorzi now has a chance to become the star he has always wanted to be.
Tony de Zorzi returned to the Wanderers eight years after he was captain of King Edwards VII, one of Johannesburg’s best schools, and seven years after he led South Africa’s Under-19 team to a World Cup where they were the defending champions but finished in 11th place. He found friends he didn’t know he had.
There were a few of my friends here, and it’s always nice to have my mum watching,” de Zorzi said. “Some people said they were my friends, but I’ve never met them.”
Natasha raised de Zorzi on her own, and he has always wanted to be the best he could be for her. She doesn’t watch him play much anymore because he took the long way to become an international cricket player. He went to the same school as Neil McKenzie and Graeme Smith, then to Pretoria, and finally to Cape Town, which is 1400 kilometres away from where he grew up. In a way, it was good for de Zorzi to play his first Test match on the Highveld and get his first fifty while Natasha was watching.
He said, “She always sits in the same spot, so I knew where she was.” “Since I’m in Cape Town, she hasn’t been able to watch many games. I hope I can get three figures the next time she comes.”
De Zorzi has set high goals for himself. In the last two years, only one of his teammates has scored a hundred at home, and only two others (Sarel Erwee and Kyle Verreynne, neither of whom is playing in this series) have reached 100. But because he has let people down in the past, he knows this is his chance to step up.
“My life has changed a lot since I played for SA under-19,” de Zorzi said. “I was captain, but I wasn’t the star of that side,” he said.
Because Wiaan Mulder did it. When De Zorzi came back from the World Cup for his age group, he had to go back to club cricket and “start over.” He played for the University of Pretoria team, which was led by Kruger van Wyk, who is now the fielding coach. Then he got a job with Northerns, where he kept getting better and better and averaged almost 80 for the second-tier provincial team in the summer of 2016–17. In the summer of 2020, he moved to Western Province, where Ashwell Prince was the head coach. Since then, he has been made captain.
This summer, he is averaging over 100, mostly because of his unbeaten 304 against the Knights, when Gerald Coetzee was part of his attack (though admittedly not many other big names).
“It’s been a long process, and I’m glad it’s come to this,” said de Zorzi. “It also reminds me of where I came from and to not get too far ahead of myself because I had to do a lot of dirty work to get there. Some guys start getting it a little bit earlier. Mine is starting to come true right now.”
After averaging over 48 in three of the last four seasons, de Zorzi was hard to ignore in this Test squad, but it took a change in leadership for that to happen. He got his chance because the new red-ball coach, Shukri Conrad, also acts as a selector when there isn’t a panel. “We knew it would be a new start when the coaches changed,” de Zorzi said. “If everyone took a chance and did well, you knew there would be a new set of eyes and maybe even more chances. That was a lot of fun. Dean Elgar, who was captain at the time, used to say that the number of runs you scored would get you into the team. Guys knew that they had to have a good season if they wanted to move up. There was nothing else to do.”
But now that it has, players like de Zorzi need to take control of their space. He showed West Indies’ attack what he was made of in the first Test, and Kyle Mayers saw it. “This guy seems to have everything together,” he said. “He is square of the wicket and strong.”
De Zorzi is very good at the cut shot. In this innings, he got almost a third of his runs with the cut shot. However, the West Indies had already figured him out from the first Test. At the SuperSport Park, they tried to give him less space. De Zorzi said, “They stick to the basics a little bit longer.” “You might get a few less bad balls, but international cricketers who do their homework are going to do it. I could tell they had different plans based on how they bowled to me today compared to how they did it at SuperSport Park. They can make it harder for you to score. And, of course, the intensity is a little bit higher. When I got out, I was really tired. It is not easy.”
But so was de Zorzi. During the free-flowing afternoon session in South Africa, he played well. Natasha sat still in the Memorial Stand the whole time. De Zorzi made his first sign to her when he hit Alzarri Joseph out of the ground with the 82nd ball he faced. She would have been incredibly proud, no doubt. As the pitch got faster and West Indies made a comeback, De Zorzi faced 73 more balls and scored 35 more runs.
They lost five wickets for 64 runs after tea, so the game is now tied. If South Africa can’t score more than 350, West Indies might be able to fight back. If you give up on that, on a pitch that is already starting to turn, the game might be over. Either way, it’s set up to bring in people who didn’t know they liked cricket, especially during a mid-week Test match when only a small part of the stadium is filled. But it’s important. And de Zorzi knows that better than anyone else.
The collapse that never came at Hagley Oval involving Sri Lanka
The skies are gray and heavy, like a wet blanket that will soon be thrown over the whole series. The field is so full of plants that animals that live in the woods have moved in. The outfield is wet, and sometimes a cold drizzle falls on biting winds. And while the local bowlers, who are all big and tall, are nimble and strong in their warm-up overs on the practice pitches, the Sri Lankan batters, who are covered in wool sweaters, face throwdowns and look like they are about to be sacrificed on an altar of seam bowling.
Get the coin. Put Sri Lanka in. Watch the ball jump gleefully off the edges of the bats and into the hands of the slip cordon as batter after batter falls like marionettes, the scoreboard showing 45-3, then 67-5, and a few swipes at the end pushing the total just over 100. Here are the usual parts of Sri Lanka’s day one story on a ground like Hagley Oval.
When they were here before, they didn’t have to bat first, but they were still out after 138 runs. The last time, they had players like Kumar Sangakkara on their team, but they still lost by 104 runs. Unless Sri Lanka pulls off a near-miracle in the second innings, which they do from time to time, these are game-changing messes. (Then New Zealand will go up to bat and put on half a million for six while smiling politely, which will only show how bad they were before.)
Then this happened. Four years after the last time they played a Test in New Zealand, where they were beaten by 423 runs at this same site, they had an amazing day of batting. Of defensive play that was mostly okay and technique that was pretty good. Had Sri Lanka’s batters done the work to figure out where their off stump was before they started a Test on foreign soil? Any Sri Lanka fan should feel a tear of pure pride just thinking about it.
Kusal Mendis, who may have been the best player in the XI, took the lead. The most important part of his 87 out of 83 was how he judged length on a surface that was a bit bumpy. When it was on a good length, he defended close to his body, almost always with soft hands, so that when the ball came in and took the edge, it bounced short of the slips. Most of the time, though, he defended inside the line, mostly using his bat to block balls that could hit him in front of the wickets or get past him to the wickets.
When New Zealand’s bowlers bowled fuller and tried hard to get an edge that could be caught, Mendis gave his all to his front-foot strokes, sometimes driving it with authority, other times sending it squirting off the face of the bat through backward point, and other times flicking it deliciously off his pads.
He got 50 runs off of 40 balls, but New Zealand’s bowlers didn’t have a great morning. 44 of those runs came from fours. He and Dimuth Karunaratne, who was just as steady but less aggressive against balls that could be hit, put together a 137-run partnership at the second wicket that was the key to Sri Lanka’s progress on day one. They would get out in consecutive overs, but when they did, they were often replaced by better batsmen.
Angelo Mathews waited for the shorter balls and scored 38 of his 47 runs through the leg side. He also hit a couple of fours off his pads when the ball was close to him. Dinesh Chandimal liked to hit the ball to the off side, and he did so six times. As Dhananjaya de Silva batted with Kasun Rajitha near the end of the day, he made boundaries whenever he could.
Their scoring areas were different, but almost all of Sri Lanka’s top seven batters covered the stumps, didn’t rush at balls until they were set, didn’t mind when deliveries beat their bats, and didn’t chase seaming balls outside their stumps. Even when bowled at (mostly by Tim Southee and Matt Henry), they didn’t give up, which is something they often do when the ball is turning.
Given Sri Lanka’s long tail and lack of experience in the field, which New Zealand can easily take advantage of, 305 for 6 is not a great first-day score. It is possible that New Zealand will win the match. But given the situation, Sri Lanka were good enough. And it’s not often that you can say that about Sri Lanka on the first day of a match in New Zealand.
India’s trust is rewarded by Bharat’s skill behind the stumps.
Sometimes almost everything that makes up a Test match is found in a single ball. One of those balls was the one that knocked Pat Cummins out of the game on the third morning in Delhi. It had the blunt precision of the Indian spinners, the deadly glide that made this pitch so hard to play on, and the sweep, a high-risk, high-reward shot so controversial that a thousand autopsies were written about it.
And there was one more thing. After the ball slipped under Cummins‘ bat, it hit the inside edge of the outside stump, bounced off the side of the middle stump and landed in KS Bharat’s gloves.
The ball didn’t spin sharply, but it didn’t go all the way with the arm either. After it was thrown, it straightened just a little. It also stayed low before bouncing off the stumps twice. Bharat had followed the ball all the way, even as Cummins took a wild swing, and he had collected it cleanly.
It didn’t matter because the ball was dead by the time he reached it, but he did a good job with his glove.
Later that day, when India had lost four wickets and were 27 runs away from their target, Bharat was moved up the order and scored a brilliant unbeaten 23 off 22 balls, including three perfectly timed fours to cover and a solid knock with a slog-swept six.
In his first two Test innings, Bharat had scored 8 and 6 in the first two games of this series. He must have felt much better after that start because he played on Sunday. Some watching from the outside might have even thought he was trying to save his career with that performance.
But India probably wouldn’t have seriously considered taking Bharat out of the game after Delhi, even if he had done nothing in the second innings. They probably know that anyone can score a number of low scores on difficult pitches, and they may have seen glimpses of Bharat’s counter-attacking potential during his brief stint with the Indian national team
It took a long time for these things to happen.
In May 2018, Indian senior team officials selected Bharat as the goalkeeper for the four-day tour and Rishabh Pant as the goalkeeper for the 50-over tour. The Indian senior team was also touring England that summer, so the A tour was a shadow tour. At the time, officials felt that Bharat was India’s best pure goalkeeper and Pant was an exciting batsman whose glovework needed work.
When Wriddhiman Saha got injured and could not join the England tour, India included Pant in its Test team in place of Bharat. The genius is going in his own direction.
But Bharat remained an important player in India’s second team. Since the beginning of 2018, he has played 19 first-class matches for the India A team, which is more than any other player except Abhimanyu Easwaran, who bats first. In those India A matches, he has scored 971 runs at a rate of 48.55, including three hundreds.
Last year, when India took Saha out of its test team, Bharat took his place. So it made sense that Bharat made his debut when Pant was injured. The Indian team management may have been tempted by Ishan Kishan’s competing claims, but they chose Bharat at the start of this Border-Gavaskar series.
At the start of the 2019-20 home season, India dropped Pant from the Test programme XI and brought back Saha for a series against South Africa. Virat Kohli described Saha as the best goalkeeper in the world and they felt his good glove work was important on India’s winding tracks. They felt that Pant still needed to work on his goalkeeping. Pant worked on it and became a world-class goalkeeper when India played England in early 2021. Until then, however, Saha was still the first choice for home games.
At the start of this series between India and Australia, the same idea was in play. India appreciates how good Bharat is with the bat, but they know he is their best goalkeeper when Pant is not around.