Until May 27, Manvinder Bisla was best known for being a Tillakaratne Dilshan lookalike. He was also known as a man for whom a trap was allegedly set by undercover reporters from a news channel. Bisla was one injudicious shot from being suspended by the BCCI, like five other cricketers. Like the others, he was not a big name, and the BCCI wouldn't have thought twice had Bisla been caught showing more than a passing interest in what the reporters were offering. Thankfully he left that sucker ball outside off, and on Sunday he reaped the maximum benefits of his judgement.
Bisla was born in Hisar in Haryana, a town known for badminton player Saina Nehwal and the highway dhabas ideally suited for those driving to and from Delhi, in north-western India. He played for India Under-19, but didn't waste much time in leaving Haryana to play Ranji Trophy for Himachal Pradesh. After impressing everyone there, Bisla got a better offer from Jammu & Kashmir, and made the move again. Only to return a season later.
This kind of impatience is not appreciated in Indian cricket. Only those cricketers who missed the bus on India selection play for other states as professionals. Loyalty to your association is valued. Those associations are supposed to fight for your selection in return. Bisla, though, was ambitious, and perhaps more of a modern-day cricketer who didn't have time for these niceties. Those reporters had nearly got it right.
Himachal, though, saw the other side of Bisla too. For starters, the coach there, Rajdeep Kalsi, thought he might have a future India player at hand. Those were the days before MS Dhoni had said hello to Pakistan, and neither Ajay Ratra nor Parthiv Patel had done enough to make the India wicketkeeping slot his own. Bisla scored three centuries in 2004-05, and got those who mattered talking about him. John Wright, then the India coach, made a trip to watch him play for North Zone. Bisla was close to representing India through a route less taken.
In three matches, though, Bisla managed just 39 runs, and Dhoni blasted a fifty against Bangladesh Cricket Board XI. There hasn't been a chance since. The nearly man continued to have run-ins with fate. Himachal named him captain in 2006, but he tore a ligament in his knee. It was an identical injury to Yuvraj Singh's, and the two went to the same doctor in Delhi. Bisla's ambition, though, didn't know bounds. He couldn't reach a contractual agreement with Himachal and went without any first-class cricket this last season. Had he been able to do this without IPL is anybody's guess.
The absence of blind faith in one team didn't stop him from being a team man, though. Kalsi, his coach at Himachal, swears by Bisla's spirit. "As a cricketer he is very competitive," Kalsi says. "That stood out when he played for us. Big heart.
"More than that, as a human being, as a person, he brought great value to the dressing room. He wouldn't think about just himself. Never sulked in a corner when he failed to make big runs. Thought about the whole team. Encouraged youngsters. Was wicketkeeper, would think nothing of running all the way up to the bowler, kept the team together through tough sessions."
Yet that early promise didn't transform into much. The season with three hundreds was never replicated. An average of 29 for this medium-pacer-turned-wicketkeeper-batsman wasn't breaking down doors. Dhoni, too, had destroyed all other wicketkeepers' aspirations. Then, along came IPL, where in theory, one night could take you out of obscurity, unlike in Ranji Trophy.
That night kept eluding Bisla, though. Even in the IPL, he couldn't settle down with one team. Kolkata Knight Riders were his third side in four years. On that sting operation tape he wasn't seen guaranteeing he wouldn't get a fourth in its sixth year. The undercover reporters were seen offering him a place in Mumbai Indians, but he was seen saying he wasn't interested because he wanted opportunities, something he wasn't getting with Knight Riders even.
A certain restlessness has been the consistent feature of Bisla's career. He needed to settle down somewhere. He needed a May 27. May 27 wasn't even supposed to happen. Then L Balaji injured himself. For the balance of the team, Knight Riders had to sit Brendon McCullum out, and play Bisla. For weeks he had not got an opportunity, and now this was the biggest opportunity he could get.
May 27 was that night, Bisla's night. He backed himself, and pulled out an uninhibited innings of mostly clean hitting. The commentators began to now see a bit of Jacques Kallis in his shots. The team owner, a multi-millionaire and the most popular Bollywood actor of his time, couldn't stop praising and thanking him. After about eight years of wandering and restlessness, Bisla might have finally found home on May 27. They won't be approaching him for stings any time soon.