To enrol Rohit Sharma for his first cricket coaching camp, each of his six uncles chipped in with Rs 50 each. To raise the balance Rs 800 for the coaching fee, some of their friends had to chip in.
Coach Dinesh Lad, the man who changed Rohit's destiny, recalls alls their first meeting. "Watching him bowl, I was impressed with his action and wanted him to play for my school, Swami Vivekanand International, Gorai. When I took his uncle Ravi Sharma, with whom Rohit was staying then, for completing the admission formalities, he went silent on learning that the school fee was Rs 275 per month."He adds: "I asked him, what happened? He said: 'We can't pay that kind of fees. Because he had a lot of interest in cricket, six of us contributed and then some friends helped. To pay Rs 275 per month was beyond us'."
It was May 31, the last day of the camp. "We used to look for players for our school team and I asked him if he was interested. He looked confused, so I asked him to call his parents. He said they lived in Dombivali (a far-off Mumbai suburb) and that he was staying with his uncle, Ravi Sharma, who was at the game. I repeated the offer to Ravi."
The big gesture
Three days later, Lad found Ravi and Rohit at his school, but when they heard what the fees were, their excitement evaporated. Lad told them to wait and went back to director Yogesh Patel's cabin.
"I asked him, 'can you give him freeship (fee waiver)? The boy looks talented but is poor'. Patel was kind enough to agree."
Lad says: "Had it not been for the waiver, I doubt Rohit would have played cricket. He was the first student of the school to get it. Now, 10 out of 15 players are studying on freeship."
Rohit's cricket education started after the monsoon. "Joining practice in November, he played only Giles Shield (junior school team) that year, as an off-break bowler who batted at No. 7 or 8. We lost in the third round."
Rohit the batsman's journey started when one day Lad arrived to see him knocking in a corner of the school's cricket field. "The way he was showing the full face of the bat was pleasing to watch. I immediately called him and started bowling. It was the moment I realised his batting potential."
A strict disciplinarian like his coach Ramakant Achrekar, Lad never tolerates anyone turning up late for training. But in those early days, Rohit also was an offender. "He used to work very hard at training, but sometimes he would come late. One day, I took him to task, but when I found out why, I said nothing.
"'Sir, what to do, I can go to sleep only after the TV is switched off.' Their two-room flat was shared by the families of three uncles and his grandmother. He slept in the hall, so he had to wait till the family TV was switched off."
Lad started to promote him in the batting order, gave him more time in the nets, and let him bat at No. 4 in the matches. Next season, Rohit was in the Harris (Under-16) and Giles Shield teams. The boy was delighted, and being expressive, the joy was evident.
Scoring tons frequently
In the first game as opener in Giles, he smashed a hundred. Soon he was batting at No. 4 in Harris, and in the 45-over matches, he was bowling 18 to 20 overs (there was no over limit). "Almost every other game he would get a hundred. He used to complain, 'Sir, thak jata hoon'.
At that time, the school only had a cement wicket. "The biggest thing is that he developed his batting on a cement wicket. Playing on concrete, he learnt to play straight. The ball doesn't move on it but comes fast. Also, the bounce was good, so he became good in negotiating it."
Rohit's first selection in a Mumbai team came when, backed by junior selectors Sanjay Patil and Shankar More, he was included for the Samna Trophy - a state-level, inter-region tournament for teams from places like Pune, Nashik and Nagpur besides two teams from Mumbai. They took him in the main team.
However, it was the beginning of a frustrating experience as Rohit found himself being ignored by the coaches when it came to the playing XI. "The tournament was in Pune and we were all excited. Unfortunately, he didn't get a game."
The struggle continued. He didn't get a chance to play at all in the Under-16 selection trial matches.
"But God is great, and that year the cricket board converted it to an Under-17 tournament," says Lad. Next season, he had to wait till the third match for his chance, but grabbed it with a half-century and followed it up with a hundred in the final league game. He smashed 70-odd in the semi-final and final to win the player-of-the-tournament award. His Mumbai career had kicked off. Soon, he was in the Mumbai U-17 team.
The big break came during a game against the top corporate team, Air India, in which he got a hundred. Dilip Vengsarkar and Pravin Amre, both influential voices in Mumbai and Indian cricket, happened to watch the innings.
Amre was the junior selection committee chairman when the team for the 2006 Under-19 World Cup was picked.
And Vengsarkar was chairman of the senior selection committee in 2007 when the teams for the one-dayers against Ireland and England, and the World Twenty20, were picked. Rohit was in all three.
The baby-faced Rohit was delighted to be on the flight to UK, but like his early days, it was a long, frustrating wait. His playing time in the first 12 ODIs was restricted to two early games, and he didn't get a hit in the first.
Those days, he phoned his coach regularly. The one conversation Lad vividly remembers is when Rohit called from South Africa during the World T20: "When I asked him, 'how is it going?' he said: 'Pak gaya hoon sir, ek bhi match nahi khela' (bored, haven't got a game)."
Lad chided him. "Are you playing gully cricket, the fact that you are with the India team is big enough. When you get a chance, do something. 'Sir, naam karunga' (will make you proud), he declared. The confidence was unmistakable."
The moment came in the crunch game against South Africa in Durban. For the first few balls, it felt as if the ball was hitting the bat. But he gained confidence and finished with a six to complete his half-century. He followed it up with a brilliant run out. In the final against Pakistan, he scored an unbeaten 30 off 16 balls. Rohit had arrived.
The elevation to the one-day team was a natural progression, but the stay at the top has not been easy. The early success was followed by a period of inconsistency.
The biggest setback of his career was when he was left out of the team for the 2011 World Cup at home. "It shook him to the core. It was the turning point of his career, and made him very focused," says Lad.For Rohit, the World Cup is unfinished business. The determination in his eyes is there for all to see.