'He will be missed by all of us in Saurashtra.'
Cheteshwar Pujara and others pay tribute to Haresh Pandya, the cricket writer who passed away suddenly last week.
In what was a terrible shock for Indian cricket, cricket writer Haresh Pandya passed away suddenly in Rajkot on Saturday, November 11.
The 53 year old had covered the India versus New Zealand T20 International game in Rajkot last month and the cricket scribes who had interacted with him at that cricketing encounter were shocked by his untimely death.
Contemporary cricketers, cricket legends, cricket journalists who visited Rajkot -- be it to cover an international match or a Ranji Trophy game -- would invariably encounter Haresh who when he was not following cricket with a rare passion taught English at a local college.
Haresh contributed frequently to Rediff.com; he also wrote for a number of national and international publications -- The Hindu, The Guardian, The New York Times among others.
Besides cricket, Haresh also covered politics, theatre and education and was discussing how he would report on the coming Gujarat assembly election for Rediff.com a few days before his death.
Haresh was among the first to trace the journeys of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja from their days on Saurashtra's cricket fields to their ascent to the national team.
Ten years ago, Haresh predicted 'It will not be much longer before he (Pujara) earns the right to wear the India cap.'
'Clearly, say those who know, Indian cricket has found in Cheteshwar the talent to step in when the current greats get to their use-by date,' Haresh had pointed out in his 2007 feature.
Cheteshwar Pujara acknowledged Haresh's contribution to his cricketing career. Speaking to Rediff.com's Harish Kotian, the Indian star batsman recalled how Haresh first interviewed him nearly 15 years ago when 'Chottu' Pujara was then playing Under-14 cricket.
"It is sad to hear about his passing away. I have known him since my Under-14 days. When I scored a triple hundred, I did an interview with him," Pujara recalled.
"He followed cricket and sports vigorously and he always had a soft corner for players from Gujarat, especially Saurashtra because he lived in Rajkot. He followed Saurashtra cricket closely. I have seen him many times at the ground, seen him at Ranji Trophy games," Pujara remembered.
"He had skill, he had ability. Not many from Saurashtra understood cricket as he used to," Pujara pointed out, adding, "He was a very nice human being."
"The moment you spoke to him," Pujara said, "you could make out the kind of energy he had. The way he asked questions you knew he had knowledge. He was very passionate about the game."
"He was someone who gave a lot of exposure to Saurashtra cricketers, even other sportspersons from the region," Pujara added.
A professor of English at the Virani Science College in Rajkot, Haresh used to write letters to Don Bradman and Keith Miller when he was young and revealed how the Don had predicted a bright future for Sachin Tendulkar in one of his letters to him.
'"I see a very bright future for this lad," he told me in a letter after watching teen Tendulkar's 148 not out at Sydney and 114 in Perth,' Haresh wrote on Rediff in 2012.
'Everyone in the Saurashtra Cricket Association is deeply saddened and shocked by the demise of Haresh Pandya, a remarkable sports journalist. Haresh Pandya's articles and coverage on cricket were exceptional and remarkable,' the SCA said in a statement.
G Vishwanath, The Hindu's respected cricket writer who met Haresh during the New Zealand T20 game in Rajkot, described him as a "cricket romantic".
"Haresh respected tradition and kept abreast with the careers of modern day cricketers," Vishwanath said.
"He had a special affection for the current lot from Rajkot like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja and other Ranji Trophy cricketers of the region. He read cricket books and wrote with flair," he added.
"His heart was always with cricket even though he was equally good with other issues like politics," journalist Suresh Parekh, who has known Haresh since childhood, said.
"He called me recently and said he wanted to interview the Gujarat chief minister for Rediff and requested me to fix the interview, but before I could do the same, he passed away."
"He used to write before he started teaching," Parekh recalled. "He was great friends with Gundappa Viswanath, he started writing on Viswanath first, then slowly he started writing on other cricketers, that is how it started."
"Haresh wrote articles about Saurashtra's cricketers... Amar Singh, Ranjit Singh, Duleep Singh... but he had a special place for Pujara. He must have interviewed Pujara more than 50 times," Parekh added.
In his final feature for Rediff last month, Haresh discussed all-rounder Hardik Pandya's rise with former India wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia.
Longtime Rediff readers will also recall Haresh's interview with Aamir Khan during the making of Lagaan way back in 2000.
Two days before his unfortunate death, Haresh's tribute to Polly Umrigar appeared in Britain's Guardian newspaper.
The cricket fanatic from Rajkot and his wonderful writing will always be missed.