Suresh Raina(ht)
Suresh Raina(ht)

UP cricket: From the days of Vizzy to the Raina, Bhuvi years

By Sharad Deep, Lucknow
PUBLISHED ON JUL 16, 2020 09:57 PM IST

In the 86 years since the foundation of the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association in 1934, only about a dozen cricketers, including Pusapati Gajapathi Raju (Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram), from Uttar Pradesh have represented Team India. These cricketers include seven bowlers, three batsmen and three all-rounders.

Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram played in the pre-Independence era in 1936. Thereafter, it took 49 years for another Uttar Pradesh cricketer to play for India in the post-Independence era.

Gopal Sharma (5 Tests, 11 ODIs) was selected to play for India in 1985. Thereafter, Rudra Pratap Singh Sr (1986) played just two ODIs.

In 1999, backed by his consistent showing in domestic cricket, Gyanendra Pandey got a chance to play in two ODIs against Pakistan. But the scenario changed in 2000 when Allahabad’s Mohd Kaif was chosen for Team India and played for six years. Kaif, who had a decent domestic career, played 13 Tests and 125 ODIs.

Rudra Pratap Singh (2005) and Piyush Chawla (2006) were the next from Uttar Pradesh to knock on the doors of Team India. A left-arm medium pacer, Singh (14 Tests, 58 ODIs and 10 T20Is) played a key role in India’s title triumph in the inaugural edition of the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007, picking 12 wickets, including 4/11 against South Africa and 3/26 against Pakistan in the final.

Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla (3 Tests, 25 ODIs and 7 T20Is) had a 10-year career with Team India, punctuated by periods of being in and out, after making his international debut at the age of just 17. In the 50-over format, he bagged 32 wickets in 25 matches with 4/25 being his best. Chawla was part of Team India when they won the World Cup in 2011.

A tall and lively pacer from Ghaziabad, Sudeep Tyagi (4 ODIs, 1 T20I) came into the picture for a short period of three months from December 2009 to February 2010. He had a 10-wicket haul on debut in the Ranji Trophy against Odisha. His roaring success appeared to be a sign of things to come as he finished the Ranji Trophy season with 41 wickets, but he soon lost his accuracy.

Suresh Raina, who will turn 34 in November, has been the most successful cricketer from Uttar Pradesh to play for Team India. He made his ODI debut in 2005 and scored a century in his first Test in 2010 in Sri Lanka. His last international match was in July 2018 when India lost to England by eight wickets at Leeds. Raina scored one run off four balls in that game.

A left-handed batsman, Raina (18 Tests, 226 ODIs and 78 T20Is) emerged as a clean hitter of the ball during the 2004 Under-19 World Cup. Although he made his ODI debut against Sri Lanka in 2005, Raina could cement his place in Team India only in 2008 and then went on to establish himself as one of India’s best limited-overs batsmen.

An inmate of the government-run cricket hostel in Lucknow, Raina was the first Indian to score a T20I century and also reach the 1000-run mark in the format. His Test career also got off to a spectacular start with him scoring a debut hundred but he never became a permanent fixture in the longest format. He was also part of India’s ODI World Cup-winning team in 2011, but has been off the selectors’ radar in limited-overs cricket, too, off late.

After Raina, Uttar Pradesh could not produce a batsman for Team India. Medium-pace bowler Praveen Kumar was one of the top Indian cricketers to have emerged from Uttar Pradesh and had a five-year international career till March 2012 when he played his last ODI against Pakistan at Dhaka. He was known for his great ability to swing the ball.

He represented India in 6 Tests, 68 ODIs and 10 T20Is. Meerut’s Kumar was India’s highest wicket-taker with 15 scalps in the 4-0 whitewash inflicted by the hosts England in a Test series in 2011. He took 77 wickets in one-day internationals and his best came at the CB Series in Australia in 2007-08 when he bowled a match-winning spell against the hosts Australia.

The emergence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar (21 Tests, 114 ODIs and 43 T20Is so far) in 2013 confirmed that there is something special for the swing bowlers in the soil of Meerut. Now, 30 plus, Kumar has managed to perform quite decently in his brief career so far.

Kumar, the first bowler to get Sachin Tendulkar out for a first ball duck in a Ranji Trophy game at Hyderabad, started his international career with a bang, bowling out Pakistan’s Nasir Jamshed with his first ODI delivery. A master of swing bowling, Kumar’s cricketing commonsense stand out.

UP’s first-ever chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav (2017) has been the latest face from the state in Team India. Yadav (6 Tests, 60 ODIs and 21 T20Is so far) drew everyone’s attention with a successful outing, including a hat-trick in the Under-19 World Cup. He formed a potent spin attack with leggie Yuzvendra Chahal in limited overs cricket.

“Winning is very important in the domestic circuit. That’s the only way to make it to Team India. Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association has provided top class infrastructure and facilities for our cricketers. It’s the responsibility of the cricketers to make full use of those facilities to come good at the top level,” said former UP captain Gyanendra Pandey, one of the most successful coaches in the history of the state.

“Junior cricketers from the state have been doing well and getting good opportunities to play for India and winning trophies for the state. I feel our senior cricketers should take some inspiration from the juniors to win in the domestic circuit,” added Pandey, who guided Central Zone to the runners-up position in the Deodhar Trophy as coach in 2005.

He, however, said that UP’s maiden Ranji Trophy win in 2005-06 season brought a drastic change in the perception among national selectors about the state’s cricketers.

“This change was possible only because we won the trophy. Performance in the IPL has been a big factor and our younger generation should look for those with ability like Suresh Raina, one of the best T20 players in the world.”

Pandey, who recently finished his stint as junior national selector, said the performances of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav at the international level, as well as in the IPL, were great. “Our present lot of senior cricketers should take inspiration from them. Dil laga kar khelna padega aur jitna padega (We need to play with passion and win),” he said.

He, however, said that UP had no dearth of talent, but the team need consistency. “We have talented young cricketers like Priyam Garg, Rinku Singh, Mohsin, Akshdeep, Yash Dayal and many more, and they have the opportunity to make it to Team India in near future, if they are really consistent with their performances,” he added.

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