Indira Nagar is one of Bangalore’s upmarket localities. Many prominent cricketers, including Rahul Dravid, former spin great, Erapalli Prasanna and former wicketkeeper Sadanand Viswanath own houses here. Dravid’s residence has turned the area into a high-profile address. A few blocks away is the modest house of Roger Binny, former India all-rounder and bowling hero of the 1983 World Cup triumph --- he was the tournament’s highest wicket-taker with 18 scalps.
It takes some effort to find ‘Terence Villa’. In fact, an elderly lady living four houses away isn’t sure which one is Binny’s house. A teenager across the lane begins scratching his head when an enquiry is made about Stuart Binny’s house. Identity is an issue. That shouldn’t come as a surprise; it is a battle Stuart Binny (30) has fought since he was a young player.
Even into his 20s, he was struggling on two fronts — extra flab which was hurting his cricket and the weight of expectations as the son of a prominent former India player.
They are not the first father and son duo to play for India. Rohan Gavaskar had little chance of emerging from the shadows of Sunil although Yuvraj Singh’s career zoomed past that of Yograj, who played six ODIs and a Test. Mohinder Amarnath, the son of former India skipper Lala, had left an indelible mark as an India batsman. Claiming the Man-of-the-Match award in the 1983 World Cup final embellished his contribution.
Stuart’s limited talent, and the fact that he too was a batsman and seam bowler like his father, didn’t help. “Stuart played under a lot of pressure because he was Roger’s son. Roger was also part of the state cricket association, and now he is a national selector. So, that pressure was always there. He has now overcome that and is showing performances,” says Brijesh Patel, former Test batsman and Stuart’s coach.
Roger Binny too helped his son hone his cricketing skills. However, Stuart always wanted to come out of his father’s shadow. He moved out of his parents’ house a few years ago. Any conversation with Stuart brings out the player’s burning desire to be solely recognised and judged for what he has achieved.
“I have already established myself as Stuart Binny,” he says. “I want to be known as a good player who served Karnataka cricket for more than a decade and also played Test cricket for country.”
Stuart began his cricket at the Brijesh Patel Cricket Academy (BPCA) in Bangalore’s Palace grounds when he was around nine. His father and Brijesh had played together. Roger was also a coach in the academy. Stuart was overweight as a boy but later worked hard on fitness.
He did well since he was a junior and was a member of the under-19 World Cup squad. Like his father, Stuart too had the ability to swing the ball since he was a young player.
“I have known Stuart since he was seven, when we started playing cricket. We were in the same net for years in Brijesh sir’s academy. He is a talented cricketer and thinks about his game. I would say he is the best all-rounder in the country at the moment,” says Robin Uthappa, his close friend and Karnataka teammate.
However, the going was not smooth and Stuart decided to join the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) T20 tournament in 2007. He was only 23. That decision could have wrecked his career, but it eventually helped Stuart discover himself as a cricketer.
“Stuart went through a bad patch, and the pressure was there. He played Ranji Trophy and had some bad seasons. Then he decided to join ICL. That gave him good exposure though. We spoke to Stuart and Roger. I advised them not to join ICL, for the sake of Stuart’s future, but eventually it was for them to decide. Roger told me, ‘let get him some exposure,’” recalls Patel.
Many people who have followed Stuart’s career feel the two seasons with ICL proved the turning point. He took the amnesty offer of the BCCI. “I felt he took a right decision to play in the ICL. When he came back, he was really an improved cricketer. His hunger for the game had gone up,” recalls Uthappa.
Stuart made a mark with the Karnataka team, becoming a prolific all-rounder in the domestic circuit in the last two years. He has pulled Karnataka out of trouble a number of times. His utility value stood out against England in Brisbane in the recent tri-series, when he scored 44 batting at No 7 after India were struggling at 67/5.
“Lot of cricketers mature early, some take time. Stuart took time, but he has matured and is doing well. He is more responsible and positive, and that is helping Karnataka. Hopefully, he will have a good future with India,” says Karnataka coach, J Arun Kumar.
Still, he continues to be judged only as Roger’s son. His World Cup selection raised eyebrows, although people are confident he will prove himself.
“Stuart will particularly be useful on New Zealand pitches as there is moisture in the air. He is a natural outswing bowler, but in the last four months, since his selection to the India team, he has gained pace and has also developed the in-swinger,” says Karnataka bowling coach, Mansur Ali Khan.
“He bowled in-swingers even earlier, but they were not sharp. After he was selected for the England tour, he has been bowling sharp in-swingers.”
He has also developed a good slow bouncer, thanks to the demands IPL make on bowlers. It will come in handy as he is expected to contribute mainly as a seamer Down Under.
Landing a few hefty blows with the bat will be a bonus, something that should also help him in the battle to establish his own identity.