It was a chaotic evening at the Ferozeshah Kotla, made worse by a bunch of squirming 18-year-olds bubbling with anticipation. The under-19 trials were on and the probables list, pruned to 30 from 60, was about to go on display.
Meanwhile, one youngster leaned against a wall, a look of resignation on his face, hands resting gently on his hips. His attitude seemed a mix of defiance and despair, his wait was almost inevitably doomed to failure. After all, previous efforts had brought only heartbreak.
This, though, was worse. Amit Mishra, who had taken wickets by the hatful in local and trial matches, not only did not make the shortlist, he was also told by Delhi selectors that he was surplus to requirements and did not have enough talent.
Specific reasons weren’t given, except a point was made. It was suggested he “work on his weight if he wanted to play oonchi (top) cricket”. It was a yardstick that would have deprived world cricket of Shane Warne, or, for that matter, Delhi itself of Virender Sehwag! Sadly, this wasn't an aberration for Mishra — oversights have been the motifs of his career. However, it also brought out his strength of character. That Kotla day, he decided to pack his bags, leave the city of his birth and move to Haryana.
And till that unexpected debut at the second India-Australia Test at Mohali, struggle was his glory, perseverance and indefatigability his allies, and shadows his home. Twice he came within a whisker of breaking down and quitting the game. And yet he couldn't, for as he said, he didn't know what he could do with those wrists and fingers other than tweak the ball. The last time he went into a depression was in 2005, when a shoulder injury curbed his potency.
He had been the skipper and leading performer for Haryana for a while and yet the national selectors and media seemed oblivious to his presence. “That period was really tough,” he told HT earlier. “I was on the verge of quitting as I was getting nowhere. The whole thing was affecting me mentally. Even at the nets I would bowl and then say to myself, ‘I'm losing it. Stop going through this torture. Enough is enough’.”
It was during one such self-punishing net session that former BCCI president Ranbir Singh Mahendra took Mishra aside and told him he was too good to let himself go this way. Mishra took a fiver in Haryana's next game. “Mahendra sir has been a huge figure in my career. He gave me my first break in the Ranji Trophy and was a constant motivator, especially when I was troubled,” said Mishra.
It has taken Mishra more than 300 first-class wickets to earn his first Test call up. Some feel he should have been picked earlier, and maybe Mishra does too. However, he did recognise the benefits of playing domestic cricket extensively. “The domestic grind certainly toughens one up. It taught me to bowl on every kind of surface — a turning top, paata, anything.”
On the field, Mishra’s run-up is frugal yet exact, he tosses the ball high, teasing, lulling and throwing the gauntlet to the batsmen — old school cricket, as they say — and is no mug with the bat.
His seven-wicket haul in his debut Test might have made him a household name, but Mishra knows that his work has just begun. The task of being Anil Kumble's heir apparent will be an onerous one, but thankfully, his struggle so far has equipped him with the tools to succeed one of India's greatest leg-spinner.