Tushar Deshpande’s first-class debut for Mumbai may have happened by chance, but his four for 25 on a helpful track against Tamil Nadu in Lahli, Haryana wasn’t a fluke.
The 21-year-old was included in the playing XI after pacer Shardul Thakur was called as cover for the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the eleventh hour for the third Test in Indore.
When Deshpande began playing, his coaches’ major task was not to help shape his technique, but to help him overcome the disadvantage of flat feet.
Being flat-footed was always going to be a hindrance to his becoming a pace bowler as the lack of arch could lead to an injury-prone body and may cause pain in the feet, leading to discomfort in the hips and back.
However, the right drills and corrective footwear helped develop a normal arch.
It was now time to focus solely on cricket. He soon shifted from Kalyan, on the outskirts of Mumbai, to Shivaji Park, the cricketing hub of Mumbai.
He was among the few to be selected in the open trials of the Shivaji Park Gymkhana Academy. The academy started a programme in 2001 to select talented players through an open trial and groom them.
“The academy takes care of the players from food, arranging tours to providing equipment and access to quality coaching without charging a penny,” said former India batsman Pravin Amre, who introduced this concept at Shivaji Park.
The academy also boasts of grooming Shardul Thakur, Shreyas Iyer and Siddhesh Lad - all Mumbai Ranji Trophy regulars.
“I am glad that SPG has been able to be that supply chain for Mumbai cricket when club standards are gradually falling,” said Amre.
Setting up the academy wasn’t a smooth process. Being a private club, Amre and his group members faced a lot of pressure from the club members to give preference to club players first. An open selection trial concept too faced flak.
For Deshpande to reach Shivaji Park (Dadar) from Kalyan involved a total travelling time of nearly three hours. “There were many guys who came from as far as Uran (Navi Mumbai) and Palghar (80km from Mumbai). We followed a strict rule that you can never be late. Seeing the dedication of these boys motivated us (the coaches) to go the extra mile,” said Amre, stressing that some of these boys were barely 10 or 12 when they travelled from far-off places.
Deshpande would have fancied his chances of making the cut in the Ranji squad when Amre was Mumbai coach till 2014-15. For, he was excelling at the U-23 level. Although he made it to the squad a few times under Amre, he never made it to the playing XI.
“As Mumbai coach, my first priority was the team combination rather than individuals. He may have been disappointed that I didn’t pick him, but I was always confident he will make the cut when it is due. I am delighted he has earned his chance on sheer merit,” said the former India batsman.