Ranji Trophy 2012-13 November 23, 2012

'Playing the game more important than playing for India' - Bundela

The Madhya Pradesh batsman, on the cusp of 100 Ranji matches for his state, looks back at his career and what drives him to turn out season after season

While Virender Sehwag made his 100th Test appearance amid fanfare in Mumbai on Friday, a domestic stalwart will reach a similar feat in front of near-empty stands on Saturday. Devendra Bundela will reach 100 Ranji games when Madhya Pradesh take on Bengal in Indore, a central India town also known as mini-Bombay and where Sehwag scored his ODI double-century. Before the 35-year-old Bundela, only 25 other cricketers have achieved the feat. And when it comes to representing only one domestic team, as Bundela has, the list shrinks to 15.

For a workhorse such as Bundela, featuring in 100 Ranji games, that too for his home state Madhya Pradesh, is one of the biggest feats in his cricketing sojourn that started when he was 12, in Ujjain. "It matters a lot that I have been able to serve Madhya Pradesh for so long. Madhya Pradesh has given me so much that I always try to give it back by doing whatever I can to the best of my abilities. And the fact that I have lasted for so long means that I haven't fared badly," Bundela tells ESPNcricinfo.

Just like his achievements as a batsman have been downplayed over the years, the soft-spoken Bundela - known as "Bundi bhai" among his team-mates - tones down the feat. Recounting his formative years, his eyes glitter. "'Eighty-nine se chalu kiya club cricket [I started playing club cricket in 1989]. There was a camp in Ujjain when I was 12 years old. Nobody else used to play the game in the family. I was fond of cricket so I started playing it. Saleem Khan and Vijay Bali [his coaches] taught me the basics," Bundela says.

Once Bundela, along with his coaches and family members, realised he was better than most batsmen his age in Ujjain, the next step was to shift to Indore, the hub of MP cricket. "It wasn't easy. Since my father was a State Bank employee, he had to stay back in Ujjain but I shifted to Indore along with my brother," says Bundela. "While he concentrated on studies, my sole focus was cricket. Sanjay Jagdale sir was my coach then. Once I came to Indore, I played for MP Under-16, then U-19, toured Australia with the India U-19 squad, and then played the Ranji Trophy."

Having featured in an ODI for India U-19 in Australia in March 1995, Bundela was included in MP's Ranji squad at the start of the next season. However, he had to wait till the last match to make his debut - against Tamil Nadu in Indore. "I spent most of that season serving drinks and observing the routine of seniors - both in my team and the opposition. I played in what eventually turned out to be the last game of the season for us. It was a spinning track, and I remember I got some 25 [26] in the first innings and 30-odd [34] in the second as we lost by an innings."

Even though his maiden season in first-class cricket was far from ideal, it gave Bundela an indication of what was in store for him. "I realised that there was a lot of gap between the U-19 and Ranji Trophy standards and I needed to improve my game if I had to establish myself at that level. Accordingly I started preparing for the next season," he says.

That preparation must have helped him not only survive the rigours of domestic cricket for 16 years but also in becoming the highest-scoring MP batsman, having featured in a Ranji final and in the side that was the domestic one-day champion. It also put him on the fringes of the India side for a brief period.

Though he couldn't make the most of his limited opportunities during India A's tour of the West Indies in 1999 and in the tour game against the New Zealanders later that year, Bundela has no qualms in admitting he was perhaps not good enough for the biggest stage. "What I feel is perhaps I needed to perform better," he says. "I don't have any regrets in not playing for India. I feel perhaps I should have done more to earn the India cap. Somewhere, somehow I may not have done enough to have achieved it."

How many cricketers are so frank about their limitations these days? And most importantly, in a day and age of instant money and fame, how many push themselves to the hilt in order to keep excelling in domestic cricket? That's the difference between them and men like Bundela, who lend meaning to the domestic set-up. "I love this game," Bundela says. "It's more important for me to play the game rather than playing for India. Obviously, I dreamt of playing for India, worked hard towards it but it doesn't happen that if you don't play for India, you give it up."

Once a player accepts this, the perceived grind all through the year in order to keep himself in shape doesn't appear so. A man who naturally has a sweet tooth has to resist the temptation of having sweets. He has to work harder on his fitness, with first-class cricket having become "more competitive than ever". He can do anything that will help him in turning out for his state team, something that gives him the much-needed "kick". So it doesn't come as a surprise that after fielding under the blazing sun in Jaipur for a full day, the first thing he does is to hit the hotel swimming pool for more than half an hour.

"It's not easy to motivate yourself, but if you love the game and play it for self-pride, self-respect and love of the game, you don't need to motivate yourself much," Bundela says. "All I have to tell myself is I am playing for my reputation and I have to give my best for MP. That is more than enough for myself."

Even though not getting his hands on the coveted Ranji Trophy is one of his biggest regrets, when they were "so close and yet so far", losing to Karnataka after gaining the first-innings lead [in 1998-99], his highs include scoring a fifty and 80 in the semi-final and the final to help MP win the Wills Trophy (domestic one-day championship) the same season. Though he thinks long and hard to recount his top three knocks, he has no trouble remembering the biggest compliment he has received.

"It has to be at Wankhede in 2004," Bundela says. "We had gained the first-innings lead but had lost three wickets for virtually nothing on the board. And then I managed to score about 140 [139] to bat Mumbai out of the game as we batted nearly a day and a half. After I got my century on the third day, Dilip Vengsarkar walked in to the MP dressing room and congratulated me. Beating Mumbai in Mumbai and a former India captain coming to shake hands with me are the two most memorable feats for me."

As you wind up the discussion, you realise that it is men like Bundela who are hardly given their due. No doubt the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association is planning to felicitate one of their stalwarts ahead of the game on Saturday. However, it would be a fitting tribute to add Bundela's name to the Hall of Fame section on their website along with the MP players who have played international cricket - from the legendary CK Nayudu to Naman Ojha.

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ajay on November 26, 2012, 16:37 GMT

    Dear Devendra, You dont know me, may be. or you dont remember but i know your elder brother Jayendra, We studied together for sometime and he was a very good friend for many many years. I guess, he is in Autralia now? Its been quite a while since those days in Indore. I also visited your home in Tilak nagar often. jayendra was so proud of you, even in those days....i remeber his eyes used to light up when he talked about you. Well done man ....Indore is proud of you.

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2012, 11:36 GMT

    These matches were broadcasted live in India (some youtube videos are still there but couldn't find his innings video) and the way he faced all those fast bowlers in those conditions showed his true talent. He got only 2 matches to bat in that series and I wish he had got more chances in that series and he may have gone on to play for India. Below is the link for scorecards of that series.


  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2012, 11:29 GMT

    Congratulations Bundi Bhai....You did very well for MP and inspired many cricketers from small places in MP.

    There was an India A tour of USA in 1999 where India A played against Australia A and it had players like Laxman, Sehwag, Kaif, Harbhajan,Nehra,Brett Lee, Gilchrist, Symonds, Damien Martyn and many others who went on to played for India and Australia. This series was played on under prepared, green top, poor wickets and arguably one of the worst tracks ever as teams struggled to score even 100-150 through out the series...Devendra Bundela wsa part of India A team and there were only 2 batsmen from India who scored more than 40 through out the series (none scored 50) and Devendra Bundela was one of them.....the other was VVS Laxman. Other players even struggled to score 20-30 throughout the series and Kaif scored 38 in one of the early matches of the series and got called up for India straight away..

  • SATISH CHANDER on November 25, 2012, 9:03 GMT

    congratulations ! I have never heard of you before but I am really happy for your milestone in Ranji. I am more pleased to see such a down-to-earth cricketer who is happy with whatever he has achieved and such graciousness in accepting his limitations. To a large extent, I feel there are many such batsmen like you who could have played for India in TEST but BCCI has always given long runs to the ODI batsmen (Yuvraj, Rohit etc) who they thought would mature into good test batsmen which never happened. And then you have players like Tendulkar playing even after failing so many times in the last couple of years, then how can people like you be ever given a chance??? You should have been born in say Australia where only current performance speaks and not your stature.

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2012, 5:53 GMT

    You can be one of the player who could have fulfilled India's allrounder roll in 2005 however never the less can be part of IPL

  • Sanat on November 24, 2012, 15:05 GMT

    Man 100 Ranji games - there are thousands who'd give an arm for that. Average of 45, you've done great for yourself. Yeah no doubt an India cap would've been the ultimate but what you've achieved otherwise is stupendous. All the very best and may you score a hundred on your hundredth Ranji game. GOD Bless.

  • vikram on November 24, 2012, 4:12 GMT

    Many many congratulations and my best wishes for good seasons in many more years to come and hopes M.P. will put good show under your captainship.......cricket fan from Indore....:)

  • Prince on November 23, 2012, 23:26 GMT

    Congratulations for a great landmark. As someone already said, you are very lucky to play cricket because lot of us have only play cricket as children and got lost in concrete jungle of job or business.

    Keep playing as long as you can my friend. Cricket is amazing game.

    I hope BCCI will look at your contribution to cricket and give you a chance to play in atleast 1 ODI before you end your career as a cricketer.

  • Dummy4 on November 23, 2012, 20:11 GMT

    You have played with pride for your state. As the article says only 15 players have achieved this feat of playing 100 ranji games for same side. Whole of MP is very proud of you and what you have achieved.

  • deep on November 23, 2012, 20:10 GMT

    great job BUNDI BHAI.......keep it up:)

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