Mohit Sharma’s entry into the World Cup squad as an injury replacement completes a unique set of pace bowlers who will do duty in the tournament. Like Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit too represents the fruition of a dream which sprouted away from the big cities. Born in the small town of Ballabhgarh in Haryana, about 37 km, or around an hour from the national capital, his rise has been slow and steady.
But for family support of his ambition to play cricket seriously, Mohit, growing up in the industrial belt of Faridabad, would have done some professional course and taken up a job not too far away from his home in Garg Colony, Ballabhgarh.
The chances of Mohit striking it big were not too bright. After all, there was no role model in his family or among friends in the locality for him to take up the game. It was through street cricket and local tennis ball tournaments that he honed his skills initially before being put through proper training at the Faridabad academy run by former India wicketkeeper Vijay Yadav.
“Hard work and a will to succeed and fight against all odds is what set him apart. He never shied away from the grind. His rise has been steady, but people know little of the hardships he has been through,” points out Yadav.
He lacked express pace, but was steady and his hard work saw him gradually rise through the age-group Haryana tournaments. However, in 2008, Mohit almost gave up cricket after a series of injuries.
He had done well at the under-19 level for Haryana when a back injury --- the biggest worry for pace bowlers --- left him bed-ridden for almost a year. With no cricket, Yadav feared his ward might fall into bad company or leave the game altogether.
“I asked him to give me one year, and told him to stay with me at my academy’s hostel,” Yadav recalls. Mohit had his physiotherapy there and also worked on his action. Gradually, he was up and running.
Luck played some part in his getting a break in the Ranji squad in the 2011-12 season after an injury to regular pacer, Harshal Patel. But he got to play only three matches. However, the next year marked the turnaround. He got to play in eight games, and although Haryana failed to progress beyond the group stage, he finished with 37 wickets.
“To me that season for Haryana was the defining phase in Mohit’s career. That set up everything that followed, the IPL success with Chennai Super Kings and a berth in the India team,” says Yadav.
He attributes Mohit’s work ethic for his progress to the national team. “Consistency is what sets him apart now and also when he came to me as a 14-year-old. He works hard on his game. He used to bowl at around 130-135kph, but he has added a few yards since he got into the Indian team.” His willingness to put in the hard yards, and the fact that as an uncapped player he didn’t cost too much, got CSK to push for his acquisition.
Yadav feels he has remained grounded despite his success until now, and that will serve him well. “Despite all the earnings from cricket, he still lives in the same house with his family,” Yadav points out.
Mohit’s elder brother Amit Bhardwaj is another admirer of his humility. Every time he is at home, Mohit makes it a point to talk to everyone in the family.
“He is not a showoff. Left to himself, he will probably start chatting with youngsters in the street, in front of the house or at the nearby park. In fact, when he came back after the first season with CSK, we had arranged a grand party. He was initially reluctant but then interacted with everyone.”
Mohit’s simple tastes extend to his cars as well. He owns a Wagon R and Swift Dzire, besides a bike. “The only thing he has splurged some money on is the bike,” adds his brother.
Aniket Upadhyay, Mohit’s roommate at Yadav’s academy hostel and now a coach, says Mohit was a jovial boy who enjoyed playing pranks on juniors. “They were harmless ones like waking up the juniors at 2am when the reporting time in summers was 4:30am.
Apart from that, cricket was on Mohit’s mind 24x7. Visualisation was something he always did, even when not in training.” Aniket says Mohit still goes to the academy and sleeps in the same room, eating whatever the rest of the trainees have. “There isn’t the slightest of ego in him.”
There have been no shortcuts in Mohit’s career. “If you see, he played for Haryana in all age-groups before making his first-class debut. The progress has been step by step,” says Yadav.
For CSK, he took 20 wickets in 2013, opening the bowling and operating in the powerplays. His eventual promotion to the India team is seen as MS Dhoni’s vote of confidence. “He describes Dhoni as the nicest person he has come across. He is aware of Dhoni’s faith in him and his abilities,” adds Amit.
Former India pacer Harvinder Singh feels Mohit can succeed in Australia if he is accurate. “He is a rhythm bowler. His line and length have always been good. He can prove to be a vital cog in India’s campaign.”
Sticking to the basics, on and off the field, is what Yadav believes will help Mohit. “Early in his career, I told him to stay true to the game and always get his priorities right. He has heeded to the advice. He has a keen understanding of how his life has changed and what will be the impact of his actions among the public.”