Punjab bank on sibling strength
There are several noteworthy aspects to Punjab's journey to the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy. One of their two captains this season is a match shy of joining the 100-Test club, while the other is only 21 years old. They have an opener who has a fair chance of ending his debut season as the highest run-scorer of the tournament. They also have an impressive battery of fast bowlers. And they have the only pair of siblings to play together in this Indian domestic season.
Uday and Siddarth, the Kaul brothers, have been an integral part of Punjab's fairytale ride, as they approach the semi-final against Saurashtra as favourites. They have completely different skills: Uday, the older of the two, is a wicketkeeper-batsman, while Siddarth is a fast bowler.
Both brothers are chasing one man's dream, that of Tej Kaul, their father, coach and mentor. Tej had kept wicket and opened the batting for Jammu & Kashmir for a brief period during the 1970s before becoming a coach. Uday followed in Tej's footsteps, while Siddarth, on the other hand, followed his father's instincts and instructions to the tee.
"He [Uday] always wanted to be like dad, but I always followed what our father told me to be," Siddarth said. "He somehow always saw a fast bowler in me and here I am, doing what he wanted me to do day in and day out." Siddarth, with 38 wickets in eight games, is the fifth highest wicket-taker this season.
Both players earned their accolades in different ways. Siddarth, who was a member of India's victorious Under-19 World Cup campaign in 2008, was an instant hit at the first-class level. Two months before that Under-19 tournament, he had made his first-class debut with a five-wicket haul against Orissa. Since then it has been a topsy-turvy ride, primarily due to injuries.
Uday, on the other hand, had to toil to make a name among his team-mates and in the domestic cricket fraternity. After emerging as one of the most consistent wicketkeeper-batsmen in 2009-10 and 2010-11, a back injury disturbed Uday's rhythm last season. But he returned and made a big impact. With 614 runs, which include three centuries, he is Punjab's second highest run-scorer. "We don't compare each other's success, in fact we revel in it," Uday said. "It's been an excellent season so far. I hope we can carry forward and help Punjab win the Ranji title that has eluded us for 20 years."
Siddarth's frequent injures were a major reason for Punjab's opponents' batting card not having "c Kaul b Kaul" more often, but they haven't forgotten its first occurrence. "It was [Rashmi] Das from Orissa, in my first game," Siddarth said.
Uday adds: "Even though he got five in his first innings in Ranji, it would have been more had I taken those chances off his bowling. I think I dropped two or three catches off his bowling in that game."
It isn't dropped catches, though, that lead to arguments between the two. Usually, it is the choice of music. While Siddarth is "not that into English" songs, Uday prefers to listen to English classics. But that doesn't stop them from sharing a room most of the times when they are on tour.
"Being together helps both of us - as individuals and cricketers," Siddarth, the more outspoken of the pair, said. "When it comes to cricket, it helps me immensely for him to be behind the wickets. There are some observations that only a studious 'keeper can make about a bowler. And he puts them across time and again to help me become a better bowler."
With the brothers sharing a strong bond, Punjab's team management is more than happy to let them be together. "Both are serious about the game and take care of each other, so we know that they are looking after each other," the coach and manager Arun Sharma said. "That in a way means two players less when it comes to man-management."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo