Journeyman Mukesh Kumar proud to have earned maiden India call-up for South Africa ODIs

Mukesh Kumar has earned his maiden India call-up for the upcoming ODI series against South Africa.

Mukesh Kumar received a notification on his phone that he had been added to the Indian squad’s WhatsApp group for the South Africa ODI series while he was in the Rest of India team bus on the way back to the hotel following the second day of play in the Irani Cup.

Within minutes, he began receiving congratulations from his admirers, supporters, and well-wishers via social media and messaging services. Mukesh Kumar called “my mum and informed her” as soon as he got off the phone. Following that, he made calls to individuals who had supported him through good times and bad, including his coaches “Joy sir” (former Bengal batter Joydeep Mukherjee) and “Rano sir” (former Bengal swinger and bowling instructor Ranadeb Bose).

Sunil Joshi, the national selector, and Mukesh Kumar and Umran Malik had a lengthy conversation just before they left the Saurashtra Cricket Association venue. Joshi failed to inform him, He refused. He contacted me to congratulate me after waiting for the official announcement, according to Mukesh.

“Honestly, I am just considering how to bowl tomorrow and how the rest of my team (India) and I intend to end the game tomorrow. Yes, I’m thrilled about the India call-up, but right now, my attention is on tomorrow’s match, Mukesh says in a calm voice in contrast to how quickly his balls fly past batters.

Your first impression after reading this would be that it’s a typical sportsperson cliche used to minimise their accomplishment. But it seems that Mukesh, who is less than a week away from turning 29, is being sincere.

“I am only this way. Being chosen for India is an extremely proud feeling, but tomorrow is crucial.

The way his life has turned out so far may be largely due to his habit to remain calm on what is arguably the biggest day of his career as a cricketer. In Kakarkund, a village in Bihar’s Gopalganj region, Mukesh would wait for the fields to be harvested before he could run in and bowl, far from being a wealthy cricketer in metropolitan India.

Mukesh opted to remain in his hometown even though his father used to own a taxi company in Kolkata. It took an incident when someone rammed into my bike as I was riding it. The side-glass cut my right cheek bone,” his father said, giving him the go-ahead to go and head over to Kolkata.

‘In love with cricket’

His father urged Mukesh to “take up a job and support the family” in 2012. The son, though, was smitten with the game. “I cherished my cricketing. I like working hard. Even the terms “inswing” and “outswing” were foreign to me. I only knew how to bowl quickly. I took six wickets in the first game, which was how I played in the second division, he explains.

He was elevated to the first division of the CAB League but was far from focused. For most of the next two years, he was bitten by tennis-ball cricket – a lucrative proposition – and the T20 frenzy. “I would play these prize-money tournaments in Kolkata, Patna, even Delhi at times. Then came the Vision 2020 trials and it changed my life forever.”

The Cricket Association of Bengal launched a talent hunt cum grooming programme, with V.V.S. Laxman, Waqar Younis and Muttiah Muralitharan at the helm. Bose sensed his talent and convinced Waqar to include him.

The next season, he made his Bengal debut, having overcome malnutrition issues and learning the art of cricket. “I am indebted to Rano sir and Joy sir. They taught me to be disciplined and patient,” he says.

He also acknowledges “Lal sir” – former India opener and Bengal head coach Arun Lal – for believing in him and giving him every match of the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy, which proved to be a game-changer. Until then, he had not got a consistent run in the state side.

From the kind of background he has had, any bowler would be overwhelmed with being included in a State team. Mukesh’s case was no different. In fact, he remembers continuously laughing at it, sitting in a corner in the Bengal dressing room.

“When I first entered the Bengal dressing room, it was full of India players. Pragyan Ojha, Mohammed Shami, Ashok Dinda, Manoj Tiwary, Wriddhiman Saha. Five players,” he said, with a sheepish smile.

“I would keep thinking about where I used to play till recently. There’s no ground in my village. I used to play two seasons, one after the wheat harvest and one after rice. I used to level the field to play with my own hands. And I used to think that I have come from there and kept laughing about it sitting in a corner.”

Once Tiwary asked him: why do you laugh whenever you see me? “So I told him the same and told me I still cannot believe I am sharing the dressing room with you. He told me: you have worked hard for it and you have earned it.”

On Sunday, everyone in the Indian cricket fraternity and Mukesh’s social circle would be repeating what Tiwary had told Mukesh six years ago.

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