Car mechanic to pace merchant - the rags-to-renown story of Tanveer-ul-Haq

Tanveer ul-Haq celebrates a wicket Tanveer ul-Haq

Whenever Tanveer-ul-Haq has batted above No. 8 for Rajasthan, it has been as a nightwatchman. In a fairly young first-class career of 27 matches, Tanveer has gone up the order five times in 38 innings. He might have been thinking of the irony of life when he walked out those five times: if it wasn't for fate, he might have been an actual nightwatchman.

It's what he had travelled to Jaipur for in 2010-11 from his native Dholpur, when his cricket career seemed to be going nowhere and the family's finances weren't in the best shape. But all his documents - identity cards and the like - fell on the road as he rode pillion with a friend on the way to the office he was hoping to join. Tanveer realised this only when he reached the office, and the job never materialised.

It was a phase in which Tanveer had worked as a car mechanic, distributed newspapers on a borrowed bicycle in the mornings, and briefly pushed a hand-cart around trying to sell children's clothes. Those days are past, though, and after 51 wickets for Rajasthan in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy, the 27-year-old has made sure he will not be part of a revolving door in the immediate future.

Rajasthan lost in the quarter-finals to Karnataka in a tight finish, but Tanveer's season was stellar - an average of 18.52 and a strike-rate of 40.3, while bowling more overs than anyone else in the team.

If not quite riches, it's certainly a rags-to-betterment story.

Things were very different a decade ago. "I played in 2007-08 at the Under-17 level, and then didn't play for three years," Tanveer tells ESPNcricinfo. "My father works in a tailor's shop. He didn't know initially about my work."

Tanveer had worked out a meticulous routine. He would leave after his father, and come back before him - and this was after going for cricket practice at an academy at 6am. The plan unraveled when Tanveer was late returning home one day. "He [his father] told me, 'Am I not feeding you? What is your problem? You will not work henceforth.'

That was the end of that, so Tanveer asked around and found that he could distribute newspapers. He couldn't have imagined then that his pictures and stories of his exploits would one day be on the sports pages of those same newspapers. The friend who told him of the job also lent him a bicycle. This time the work was early in the morning, so his father thought he was off for namaaz and cricket practice. But another hurdle came about in the form of a scooter accident, leaving him with a gash above the left eye.

"I originally wanted to be a batsman. When I played with a tennis ball, I used to hit a lot of sixes. But I didn't have enough money to buy a bat, so I said I'll bowl. But my spin bowling was getting smashed. So I decided to bowl fast." Tanveer-ul-Haq

"It (the work) paid about INR 300 per month (approximately USD 6 at that time). This was in 2008-09, and yes, 300 per month at that time was a pittance. But it was still money I needed," he says. "I used to tell my mother everything, so she knew where I was going and that I was working. But when I had the accident, my mother also said no need to work, whatever is fated will happen.

"Then I thought, 'Now I can't tell my mother also'," smiles Tanveer. "That is when I took the job of pushing the handcart around with children's clothes. But I did that for only a month because I couldn't make any money, I wouldn't even get INR 5 for one day."

So Tanveer went to Jaipur to try and become a security guard. "I thought I could work at night, practice in the morning, and then sleep during the day," he says. But then he lost his papers. "I somehow spent 10-15 days in Jaipur, I had no money in my pocket either. Then I thought that I need to go back home, that is the one place left where I can still get a meal! So I came back home."

That was when Sumendra Tiwari came to his rescue. Tiwari, who would later go on to become the Rajasthan Cricket Association secretary, ran an academy in Dholpur. Tanveer had been part of the academy, and Tiwari had taken him under his wing.

How that came about is a story of its own. A neighbour, Dushyant Tyagi, had been an age-group cricketer for Rajasthan, and after much pleading, he let Tanveer tag along to the academy with him.

"I originally wanted to be a batsman. When I played with a tennis ball, I used to hit a lot of sixes," Tanveer recalls. "But I didn't have enough money to buy a bat, so I said I'll bowl. But he (Tyagi) was a good batsman and used to smash my spin bowling. So I decided to bowl fast."

Tiwari liked what he saw of the boy, and sometime later asked him to come in whites to play an inter-academy match. Tanveer, naturally, didn't have whites. He wore a white jersey that his school had given him for being part of the basketball team, and his father's white pyjamas. The shoes he bought from a roadside seller. Tiwari took one look at him and hollered, 'What are you wearing? Is this the way to dress for a match? Dress properly for the next game.'

"But of course I didn't have any other clothes to wear so I wore the same thing for the next match too. Then Tyagi bhaiyya told sir, 'He doesn't have the money for new clothes.' And sir immediately said, 'He should have told me!' Then he took me to his home, gave me two sets of jerseys and pants, and a pair of Reebok shoes."

Tanveer also had the keys to the equipment room at the academy, since he usually turned up for training early. That helped. "Sometimes people would forget their t-shirts or pants there. I would wait and see, if no one claimed it for a month or so, I'd take it home, wash it, and use it. That's how I played cricket."

Tiwari continued to be a benevolent presence in Tanveer's life. After his fruitless trip to Jaipur, he got a call from Tiwari, who asked him to try out for the Rajasthan Under-22 side.

It was to be the start of a chain of events that would lead Tanveer to the Rajasthan senior team. But not without its own twists.

Money to start with. Tiwari handed him INR 2000 for the trials in Udaipur, which allowed Tanveer to travel. "But when you go for trials, you have to bear your own expenses, so by the time it was done, I once again had no money," he says. "If you get selected in the camp, then the board will put you up and take care of your expenses. So I asked sir if he could get me in the camp. I would have also made a bit of money then, with the TA and DA (travel allowance and daily allowance). He managed to get me a spot.

"There were three matches and I got four wickets each in the first two matches and three in the third, but I was not selected for the Under-22 team. But Aniket (Choudhary, the fast bowler) was in the team then, and he played one match and was selected for the senior squad. So I got a chance, and it all started for me from there. I played in all the age groups, and then got into the Rajasthan squad."

Tanveer's initial years with Rajasthan were marked by limited opportunities. He never played more than five matches in any of the first four seasons after his debut in 2014-15. Understandably enough too. Rajasthan had an embarrassment of riches in the pace department. There were Pankaj Singh, Deepak Chahar and Choudhary as the senior quicks. Among the younger crop were Khaleel Ahmed and Kamlesh Nagarkoti. All of them have played at a more prominent level than Rajasthan, except Tanveer. Which meant that whenever enough of them were available, it was Tanveer who sat out.

But in 2018-19, there was finally the chance to play a full season, with other fast bowlers unavailable, playing elsewhere, or injured. And Tanveer responded by becoming the team's highest wicket-taker.

From bowling because he had no bat, Tanveer had now reached a stage in his journey where he was making batsmen look like they had never held a bat before.