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Batting on despite odds

In the age group of 13-18, the children have sacrificed the comfort of their homes lest they be stopped from pursuing their passion, finds Heena Zuni Pandit.

cricket Updated: Jul 26, 2008 19:15 IST
Heena Zuni Pandit

TALES OF budding cricketers honing their skills in short camps are routine, but in the northern part of the Capital a camp has been on non-stop for the past two years.

Another unusual feature is that the 16 trainees have given up academics in order to play cricket.

In the age group of 13-18, the children have sacrificed the comfort of their homes lest they be stopped from pursuing their passion.

Overseeing the bunch, which stays at the Bharat Nagar ground, coach Sanjay Bharadwaj, said, “What sets these boys apart is that they have braved difficulties to be here. The biggest being lack of support from their families.”

Though the venue is dependant on funds from the government, it is the children who ensure the ground stays in top condition. “It's my ground and I care for it,” said Prateek Kaushik, one of the campers.

The boys start their day at 5 am. After a few laps of the ground, they divide themselves into groups. While some water the field others fetch groceries and help Uma Shankar (the cook) prepare breakfast.

Siddharth Sehwag, who led the under-14 Delhi team in the last season, is the youngest at 13. Mention studies and he starts off, “School, na…kabhi, kabhi (No sometimes).

“We must be good in studies, I mean English (he clarifies) and we have a tutor for that,” he said pointing to the books lying around.

Saleem, the 18-year-old wicketkeeper batsman, is also the “keeper” of the family. Apart from guiding the others by virtue of being the eldest, he shops for vegetables. “Bhindi is Rs 17/kg and tamatar is 12,” he told. “No one dare annoy Saleem bhai because it can cost us a meal,” said Sandeep Kaushik. The trainees have their tasks chalked out. Nakul Sharma is in charge of the gear while Pawan Dabbas and Saqib Alam ensure Saleem offers his prayers in peace.

Staying away home has not been easy for the boys. Darshan, who hails from Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, lost his father four years ago.

“Initially, I felt I was being selfish and it was unwise to leave my family,” he said. “But Sanjay sir helped in making a choice,” he added. Darshan proved the right decision had been made when he took 12 wickets in four under-19 matches, a feat that helped him bag a contract with the Delhi IPL team. “No regrets now.”

While the boys — all of them have played at the national level in different categories — are leaving no stone unturned to realise their dreams, one thing they want to cherish is their friendship. “We gel very well and that's our biggest strength,” said Nitish Rana, his eyes sparkling.