Meet Praharsh Parikh, the 19-year-old boy who bowled MS Dhoni
One net session, that took place on the eve of the India vs Pakistan ICC 2019 World Cup match in Manchester, remains etched in the mind of a young bowler from Manchester, England.
Following the Indian cricket team's practice session can be a riveting affair. Most often, you'd witness the usual. Net bowlers steaming in, batsmen fine-tuning their methods and the ever-so-observant coach keeping a keen eye on the players. The usual. However, one such net session, that took place on the eve of the India vs Pakistan ICC 2019 World Cup match in Manchester, remains etched in the mind of a young bowler from Manchester, England.
As it eventually turned out, the 2019 WC was MS Dhoni's final appearance for India. Through the tournament, the former India captain put in a little bit extra on the field and the nets alike. Over the years, Dhoni's template of batting in the nets has more or less remained the same. One of the last guys to enter, Dhoni begins by facing the spinners first. He knocks the ball around for a while, slowly gets into the groove before bringing out the big shots.
June 15, 2019, the day before the India-Pakistan World Cup clash, produced a similar pattern. Dhoni strode to the nets and got ready to face the bowlers. Up stepped Praharsh Parikh, part of Lancashire's Under-17 team. Coming round the wicket, Parikh bowled a top-spinner, forcing Dhoni to go back and play a cut, but the ball did not bounce as high as Dhoni anticipated and it went under his bat to clip the off-stump. Prior to that day, Parikh had been many things – an Under-17 Lancashire cricketer, part of Rajasthan Royals' junior program. But on that day, he was part of a moment he would proudly narrate to his future generations. He was the kid who had bowled MS Dhoni.
"It was amazing. It was a memory of a lifetime. He was taking singles to my previous deliveries so I thought it might be useful bowling a flipper and hopefully beating him on the outside edge. After I bowled him, I didn't really know what to do, whether to celebrate or not. During net bowling, I have got various players out from different teams, but the wicket I will cherish for a lifetime is Dhoni's," Parikh tells Hindustan Times.
It wasn't the first time Parikh had met the stars of Indian cricket. Part of the cricketing set-up that he is, Parikh often gets a chance to watch and interact with some of these larger-than-life players. Having been part of the Royals' training camp, Parikh had in fact, met Dhoni before, but never got a chance to bowl to him.
"I was a net bowler in the 2019 World Cup, so I have fortunately met quite a lot of cricketers. But I think the moment that stood out for me was when I met MS Dhoni, and when I talked to Hardik Pandya in Hindi. Also, I met Ashwin in the Trafford Centre in 2014 when India played at Old Trafford. In 2018, during a Rajasthan Royals net bowling session, I had the opportunity to talk with Jos Butler and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation," Parikh says.
As it turns out, it wasn't Parikh's last big moment. As the tournament went on, he got the opportunity to bowl to several cricketers from India, West Indies, South Africa, England and Pakistan. Ahead of India's semi-final match against New Zealand, also at the Old Trafford Cricket stadium, Parikh helped the Indian batsmen prepare against spin. And even though this time he did not get Dhoni, Parikh did manage to outfox some of MSD's teammates.
"I got [Hardik] Pandya, Vijay Shankar, [Rishabh] Pant out from the Indian team. This was the day before the semi-final of the 2019 WC in the nets at Old Trafford. Evin Lewis, Shai Hope, Nicholas Pooran, again during the 2019 WC. Hendricks, Van der Dussen when I bowled against South Africa," Parikh tells.
"Babar Azam and Imam-Ul-Haq from Pakistan. Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid, Liam Dawson from England. There wasn't much interaction because the players were focused on getting ready for their games. I remember Babar Azam saying to Imam that he couldn't understand my action, in Urdu, and he said well bowled to me on a couple of occasions."
Coming from a Gujarati family having sports roots, Parikh was born in Ahmedabad. His grandparents and father played badminton at the national level. He came to the UK when he was a 1-year-old, but regularly visits India both for cricket and to meet family. Lancashire, the team he plays for has a rich history of cricketers – with the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Wasim Akram, VVS Laxman, Mike Atherton, James Anderson and more – and Parikh couldn't be any prouder of his team's legacy.
"The club's history is very rich. It is an honour to be part of such a club with rich history and legendary cricketers such as Ganguly, Atherton, Akram, Chanderpaul and Flintoff. I've been with Lancashire since U10s till academy and 2XI. I've learnt more and more about the club's history every year," he says.
He was only seven when Parikh's father told him he appeared to be a natural at cricket. Ever since, he's simply enjoyed the game. Whenever he watches cricket on the TV, Parikh claims he is just drawn towards the level at which the cricketers play. He looks up to his coach Gary Yates, a former English off-spinner and the current assistant coach at Lancashire, and admires India's R Ashwin.
"MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jos Butler are my favourite cricketers," he says. "Ashwin is my bowling idol. He is someone I watch closely to learn about his action, tactics, and variations e.g., the carrom ball. I remember when he became my idol. It was after a test match, where he set up a batsman perfectly. He was bowling on a middle stump line and the ball was turning into the batsman’s pad. And then on the 4th ball of the over, he bowled a straighter ball which hit the off stump. I thought that it was an incredible show of his skill."
After grappling with Covid last year, things in the UK have started moving. Places have started to open up, cricket grounds included and Parikh is back doing training. Games are starting now as usual and he expects the season should be a normal one. During tougher lockdown periods, Parikh often visited his local cricket club to train, looking to push himself physically.
"I go on three runs a week, and try to improve my time or distance. I have a few weights at home so I continued with my workouts. I enjoy reading, especially business, psychology and self-improvement books. I dedicate 1-2hrs a day to reading. I am also studying to prepare for my exams."