RIGHT-ARM offie Gopal Sharma was the first cricketer from Uttar Pradesh to represent India since the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram in 1936.
Since he played his last Test match in 1990-91 against Sri Lanka, there was no one to talk about Uttar Pradesh's role in the Indian team.
In the later stages, a few names, including old war horse Ashish Winston Zaidi, came up for discussion, but in the absence of backing in the selection committee, the chances of UP cricketers making it to the national side dimmed, except once in 1998-99 when Gyanendra Pandey got an opportunity to play just two ODIs.
Kanpur's Gopal, whose forte was accuracy and stamina, made his international debut against England in 1984-85. He did put the in-form L Sivaramakrishnan in the shade with his dazzling performance. But, later with Maninder, Shastri, Arshad Ayub, Shivlal Yadav and Narendra Hirwani around, Gopal became a forgotten man.
After him, Lucknow's Rudra Pratap Singh made it to the Indian team as a seam bowler, but he could also play just two ODIs in 1986. His only wicket was that of Dean Jones in his second and final match.
Former spinner Anand Shukla was the first cricketer from the State to become a member of the national selection committee in 1990. But, his four-year tenure didn't see any cricketer from the State making it to the national side. Gyanendra Pandey, Rizwan Shamshad and Manoj Mugdal, besides Ashish Winston Zaidi were a few prominent names, who deserved to be the part of the Indian team, but to no avail. In 1992, Zaidi was among the probables for the World Cup in Australia.
After a break, the fresh journey of the UP cricketers in Indian team began in 2000 when talented Allahabadi Mohammad Kaif after making his Test debut against South Africa in Bangalore, compelled the selectors to look for more talents from UP with his superlative shows, including the historical innings at the NatWest Trophy at Lords, which India won.
But, the actual boom for UP cricketers came thanks to Gopal Sharma, who became a national selector two years ago from the Central Zone.
Making full use of his experience as a former selector of UP junior teams, which won almost all the board trophies, Gopal advocated the cases of talented youngsters for the Indian team.
Ghaziabad's Suresh Raina made his debut for India in the concluded tri-series in Sri Lanka and later it was Rudra Pratap Singh.
"All the selections were based solely on merit, and there was no bias," Gopal had said in an exclusive chat with the Hindustan Times.
"Now, the time has come when people have to think about UP cricketers as the State has become a major centre for top class cricketers in the Central Zone," said Gopal, who holds the honour of inducting as many as five cricketers from the zone in the Indian team, including JP Yadav and Murali Karthik during his days.
"UP has enough talent at the junior level and it's a very good sign for Indian cricket. Cricketers from the zone have proved their worth in both the domestic circuit and international level, especially the juniors," said Gopal, who played 11 ODIs and five Tests.
"It's true that being a selector from the zone, I advocated the cases of our players, but only due to their laudable records," said the former offie, adding, "Rudra's 71 wickets in domestic cricket in 2005-06 season spoke volumes of his calibre as a good left-arm seamer."
An officer with Punjab National Bank, Gopal, who has again been named chief of the UP Senior Selection Committee last week, also accepted that young talent was being given preference in the Indian team now.
"I am happy that I am discharging my duty as a selector from the zone in the right manner."