Dreams are often made of decisions. Grown men gathered around crowded tables in Bengaluru while young fledglings sat in front of television sets elsewhere wondering if their dreams could indeed turn real. They sure did for some – cricketers tucked away in unlikely corners of the world, waiting eagerly to make a name. As the auctioneer brought down his chunky wooden hammer down, Thangarasu Natarajan, Mohammed Siraj and Rashid Khan were among those woken by its jarring, yet sweet note of noise.
Nangarhar is an idyllic Pashtun province in the East of Afghanistan. Water and healthcare dominate the conversation. Less than a quarter of its population has access to clean drinking water. Naturally existential woes take centrestage in its capital, Jalalabad. Not anymore. Not after a certain Rashid Khan swung into the arc lights with a massive Rs 4 crore price tag to play in the tenth edition of the Indian Premier League. The Sunrisers Hyderabad team put Afghanistan on the IPL map by picking up Mohammad Nabi and Khan, reminding us that the IPL remains a playhouse of dreams.
Nabi became the first Afghan to be drafted to the IPL, but his Rs 30 lakh tag was soon put to the shade by the riveting bidding battle for 18-year-old Rashid. The young man is now worth more than Eoin Morgan and Angelo Mathews on the table of IPL stakes. No Indian player can claim to have a meatier contract than Rashid too. Karn Sharma earned the biggest ticket yesterday and he went for Rs 3.2 crore.
Ever since taking shape in 2008, the IPL has come to redefine cricket commerce. Unheralded young men have been thrust into the limelight season after season. Raw talent found voice through the league – Axar Patel, Shreyas Iyer, Karn Sharma and Sanju Samson are names cast in the IPL furnace.
Mustafizur Rahman did the star turn in 2016 when he played an instrumental role in the championship winning effort of Sunrisers Hyderabad. A trend begun by unheralded Indians was taken international by the Bangladeshi bowler. Emboldened by the rewards of their investment in overseas players, the Sunrisers broke the ceiling for Rashid Khan.
In a country torn by strife and poverty, a Rs 4 crore contract for a teenaged all-rounder will certainly serve to spur cricket as an outlet. Khan’s mega selection comes right on the heels of ICC’s decision to afford first class status to Afghanistan’s domestic competition. If the teenager can deliver a couple of blow-out performances during this IPL, he will have not only earned his cheque, but given Afghan cricket much needed impetus.
You could venture a few educated guesses about the reason for Khan’s high stakes bid. Lalchand Rajput, the man who coaches Afghanistan, tends to be heard in Indian cricket circles. Rashid’s agency, Insignia Sports, seems to have its eye on the ball. They managed to sign him into Comilla Victorians, who won the Bangladesh Premier League. And they advised Khan to throw his hat in the ring for IPL. Now he can come to India and live his dream with the team from Hyderabad.
There are fairytales closer home too. At Rs 2.6 crore and Rs 3 crore, Siraj and Natarajan were provided scripts that even they might not have dreamt about. The former is the son of an auto-rickshaw driver from Hyderabad. He grew up in the clutches of urban poverty. Cricket offered him much needed relief from the struggle that surrounded his existence.
Natarajan was as far removed from stardom as you might imagine. Chinnappampatti is a sleepy hamlet beyond Salem. His mother is a meat vendor, the father a daily wage labourer. The idea of a crore must evoke vain laughter in the environs of his home, one he shares with four other siblings.
Yet, these two young men have risen from the dark by their sheer determination and hard work. Perhaps hurling the ball at breakneck speed was just the kind of release they needed to forget the hardship that enveloped their lives.
Siraj crafted his way around through the maze of Hyderabad’s labyrinthine leagues. In a world ruled by cricket administrators and their henchmen, Siraj forced his way through by the sheer weight of his wicket-taking abilities.
Natarajan may have been lost to tennis ball cricket. Fortunately, he was drafted into the Tamil Nadu Premier League. His exploits for the Dindigul Dragons have helped the young man gain attention. Natarajan was also one of the pegs that helped carry Tamil Nadu to the Ranji Trophy final last season.
They have performed well, but their feats have come away from the glare. The young men have battled obscurity with their might and mind. And done well too.
But the lights are on now. The tag will hang on their sleeves all summer. It will be interesting to see these crafty cricketers cope with the pressure of playing on the big stage with the eyes of the world feasting on their newfound glory. They may yet narrate an epic tale of glory as the league plays out this summer.
Updated Date: Feb 21, 2017 13:28 PM