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'Cricket helped me recover from family tragedies'

By HARISH KOTIAN
May 17, 2022 09:34 IST
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'My father's dreams for me were connected to cricket.'
'I knew if I did well in cricket, his soul would rest in peace.'

IMAGE: Delhi Capitals' pace bowler Chetan Sakariya celebrates taking a wicket during an IPL 2022 game. Photograph: BCCI

Chetan Sakariya took up cricket late, but he rose quite rapidly through the ranks.

After impressing the Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2021 with 14 wickets in as many games and consistent performances for Saurashtra in domestic cricket, he was picked in the Shikhar Dhawan-led Indian team for the limited overs series in Sri Lanka last year.

Sakariya made most of the opportunities with three wickets in the two T20Is and one ODI against Sri Lanka.

However, it was a tough 2021 for the young pace bowler as he lost his younger brother before he was picked up by the Royals at the auction for Rs 1.2 crore (Rs 12 million).

After an impressive showing in the first phase of IPL 2021, he suffered another setback when his father passed away a month before he achieved his dream of playing for India.

Before he took up cricket, Sakariya, who was the sole breadwinner for his family, worked at his uncle's stationery shop in Bhavnagar as his father -- a lorry driver -- was bed ridden after suffering a few accidents. His uncle helped Sakariya pursue his cricketing dreams while his nephew worked at his shop.

Sakariya also owes a lot to Saurashtra team-mates Jaydev Unadkat and Sheldon Jackson who helped him a lot during his initial days in domestic cricket.

Following his good showing in IPL 2021 for the Royals, he attracted a lot of attention at this year's IPL auction before Delhi Capitals signed him for Rs 4.2 crore (Rs 42 million).

This IPL, opportunities have been limited, but he has made an impact with three wickets from three games, including a superb spell of 2/23 in four overs against his old team, the Rajasthan Royals.

Chetan Sakariya tells Rediff.com's Harish Kotian how cricket provided the healing touch after twin tragedies in his family last year, his memorable first meeting with Rahul Dravid and how his action is inspired by Pakistan fast bowler Junaid Khan.

The first of a two-part interview:

 

Chances have been rare for you at Delhi Capitals, but you made it count in an important game against the Rajasthan Royals. You dismissed the dangerous Jos Buttler early for seven.
How important was that early wicket since you were given the responsibility with the new ball?

The new ball responsibility was there, but more important was the fact that we were playing a crucial match, in terms of qualifying for the play-offs.

I was only thinking that I should not make any mistakes and look to execute my plans. I was not bothered whether I would be successful or not, but the main thing was to execute my plans.

That was a complete performance with the ball for you against the Royals, when all your four overs were executed to plans. You made the new ball count and kept things tight when called to bowl in the middle and at the end.
You must be happy that not only did you keep things tight but also picked up wickets, to finish with superb figures of 2/23 in four overs.

If you talk about satisfaction, I would rate it 9/10 because whatever I had planned, it was executing well, while also picking up two wickets.

So I am very satisfied with that bowling performance. I bowled in every phase of the match, with the new ball, in the middle overs and in the death overs, and whatever Captain Rishabh Pant asked of me, I was able to do that.

You had a good debut for the Delhi Capitals against KKR, picking up of Aaron Finch in your first over, and conceded just 17 runs in three overs.
Delhi Capitals Bowling Coach James Hopes said you executed the plans to perfection. Can you tell us what areas you work with Hopes during IPL practice sessions?

Hopes Sir has a lot of knowledge about bowling strategies. If you ask him about any batter, he will give you three different plans on how to bowl to them. If you manage to execute it, you will be successful.

Before every match I speak to Hopes Sir about the main batters or the in-form batters in the opposition team. We discuss what are their strong points, where to bowl at them, where not to bowl.

So we discuss all these points and work on it during our practice sessions. If we get a chance during the match, we try it out against that particular batter.

The same thing we tried against Finch. We knew he has a problem with the incoming delivery where it is a right-arm pacer or left-arm pacer. So me and Fizz (Mustafizur Rahman) were trying to bowl him inswingers and get his wicket.

You were sold to Delhi Capitals for Rs 4.2 crore after starting with a base price of Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million) with Delhi beating stiff competition from your previous team Rajasthan Royals.
How much confidence does it give when you see teams battling to sign you at the IPL auction?

You get that feeling that you belong at this level, that you have talent because so many great players are involved in the auction.

You also take responsibility because you feel that if people are showing so much faith in you, then you need to perform well. Whatever weak points are there in your game, you will work on it and improve.

IMAGE: Chetan Sakariya with his family. His father and younger brother passed away last year. Photograph: Chetan Sakariya/Instagram

Last year was a roller coaster ride for you. Your brother passed away before you were picked at the IPL 2021 auction, then your father passed away after the IPL after which you were picked for India.
How did you recover from the twin tragedies in your family? Did cricket provide the healing touch?

I would say I recovered fully from those losses only because of cricket. My full family was totally connected to cricket.

That time was very difficult for me personally. During that one week, I was completely lost, I didn't even eat; I had the feeling of guilt.

That is when my relatives, my friends and even my mother told me to go to the ground so that those few hours when I am playing or training, your mind will be focused somewhere else.

Slowly but steadily I started getting back to that zone. I used to meet my team-mates with whom I used to speak about cricket, so from there the focus started shifting back to cricket.

I believe that it was only because of cricket that I managed to recover from those tragedies.

My father's dreams for me were connected to cricket. So I had no option but to choose cricket. I knew if I did well in cricket, his soul would rest in peace. Those things used to motivate me and I was able to shift my focus back to cricket.

Who were the biggest supporters for you when you took up cricket initially?

Not exactly. But they never stopped me when I wanted to take up cricket. In my family, no one had studied much so they had no idea on how things would work out.

I used to tell my father about pursuing a career in cricket and he used to think about how much expenses he would need to incur for it. He used to believe that cricket is a rich man's game and we will not be able to afford it.

Another reason that I became a bowler was that you don't spend much to be a bowler. You only need to buy shoes with spikes.

They never stopped me from playing cricket. I was good at studies also. And in my state (Gujarat), the government helps a lot in the field of education, there are a lot of scholarships. So they knew about it and hence they wanted to focus on my education.

So I would say there was not much support also for me and at the same time they never stopped me also from cricket.

Your family didn't have much money to spend on your cricket while they didn't have much knowledge of cricket as a career. Was that the reason that you took up cricket pretty late? It was only after you turned 16 that you received some formal coaching.

As a teenager, I was confused. I did well in studies so everyone used to think that I could take up some government job, which would settle my family life.

I used to think that along with cricket I will also continue my studies and that was the reason why I took up science.

But after studying science for a year, It realised it is not my cup of tea.

It was then that my inner voice used to constantly tell me that I should take up cricket. If it works out, then well and good, else I will join my mama's (maternal uncle's) stationery business.

He had a well settled business as the stationery distributor in his district (Bhavnagar). He told me that you work with me and you can continue your cricket along with this. Whenever you want practice, you can go while the rest of the time you can work here.

So that is how things started falling in place. Gradually, I reduced my studies and focused fully on cricket.

Last year, you were picked up by the Rajasthan Royals at the IPL auction for Rs 1.2 crore. That money must have been a big help for your family as things were not easy when you took up cricket.

I feel that if the (IPL 2021) auction had happened around 7-10 days before it actually happened it would have been very good for me.

My brother passed away and seven-eight days after, the auction happened.

So I would say if the auction had happened earlier, I would have been very happy and things would have been different today.

I was happy, my parents were happy too and maybe that helped us to recover from that tough period. Suddenly, my parents started thinking differently, that Chetan has worked so hard and now he has got picked in the IPL.

A lot of people came to meet me, so my family's focus shifted in a different direction.

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com

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