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 by fellow pacer Akash Deep on Monday after he helped Bengal reach Ranji Trophy final after 13 long years.
It sort of summed up the duo's story this season. They claimed 30 wickets each this season in Bengal's successful run.
Mukesh was at his furious best in the semi-final against Karnataka, taking a career-best 6 for 61, to lead his side to a crushing 174-run win.
While he was rejected by Waqar, Bengal bowling coach Ranadeb Bose strongly backed him.
Mukesh used to play tennis-ball cricket at that time.
"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 told PTI.
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 to say that this boy did not have money to do MRI. He was not a contracted player of CAB but the association went out of the way and took care of him. I told him 'he's got a future'. Ganguly agreed, he had a malnutrition problem so CAB spent money. We kept him in CAB accomodation, and he trained."
But the next big task was to convince Ganguly to hand Mukesh a Ranji debut against a Virender Sehwag-captained Haryana in Lahli in 2015.
"Dada said he's not even in the first division team and you want to play him Ranji. It was a very very tough call, against Haryana.
"My job was at stake, then at the end of day, the first wicket he got was that of Sehwag in Lahli. It saved his career and my job. Since then he's been briillant."
Mukesh dismissed a well-set KL Rahul (26) cheaply in the first innings, while another India batsman Manish Pandey fell to him successively in the match.
On a day 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 on Tuesday.
"He should immediately play India A. He's better than anybody who's playing India A. His fitness is unbelievable."
"He's got a fantastic release. He might not look like he's not putting an effort but off the wicket he's very good. 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. Batsmen may not expect it would come fast but the ball just skids through," Bose said.
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 straightened up. Now it's helping me getting the movement," he said.
Incidentally his late father Kashinath Singh, a taxi driver in Kolkata, brought Mukesh to the city in early 2000s in search of a career.
"I wanted to join 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."
His father died of a brain hemorrhage in December before the start of the season.
"But I got the full support of the team members I dedicate this show to my father. I know he's watching me," he signed off.
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