It's a cool wintry morning in Bangalore and Sunil Joshi is turning his arm over in the nets, when he hears a voice call him: "Jo, the lone warrior!" It's Rahul Dravid, who had come over a day before he left for Australia.
"I told him, it's not like that [lone warrior], just that I think this Karnataka team needs me," says Joshi. "Rahul told me that I should play for two more years. I told him, let me play this season and come back from England [where he plays league cricket] and will then take a call."
We are sitting in a small room in the National Cricket Academy and Joshi is trying to explain why he is still carrying on playing. Not that he is floundering. In fact he is the third-highest wicket-taker this Ranji season with 25 wickets from five games. But the question remains. There are some players, like Kanwaljit Singh, who went on playing in search of that elusive India cap. What drives a player like Joshi who has had the taste of international cricket to continue sweating it out for the state? Sure, there must be a hope that he can play again, but deep down he must feel, if not know, the dream is over.
Joshi is still hopeful of a national recall, but that is not his chief motivating factor. He charges his batteries daily with the desire to pay his dues back to Karnataka cricket by being a mentor to the youngsters, the left-arm spinner KP Appanna in particular.
"I want to nurture the youngsters. I don't want them to endure what I faced early in my career when couple of seniors Raghuram Bhatt and K Jeshwant retired. It took a while to settle down, find my feet, get experienced and start taking the load. That should not happen to youngsters coming in, be it bowling or batting. As a senior, I need to pass on my experience, help in their growth and make them committed and that is only going to benefit Karnataka.
"I feel every player should have one idol who you go to and surrender yourself completely to. He may not be a cricketer, might be a good friend too, but he might be able to help you. Like how Bishan Bedi sir has been to me. Even today, when I feel low, I just pick the telephone and speak to him. I tell him what I am going through and he would say, 'It's fine Josh' and we thrash it out. I am doing a similar role for Appanna. I don't want him to feel alone."
Fair enough, but how about the other charge that an older player always faces? That he is blocking a youngster? Joshi dives into his memory to counter that with an anecdote. "When I was trying to get my way into the team, I was competing with [Kartik] Jeshwant and Raghuram Bhatt. During one of the selection tournaments between state XI and combined city XI, Raghuram made a statement: 'Yes I know Sunil Joshi is rising, but he has to come little closer to me to replace me. He has to perform consistently, perform in every game.' It was a good thing. I liked the competition and that was his thinking too to toughen me up so that I force my way in.
|He charges his batteries daily with the desire to pay his dues back to Karnataka cricket by being a mentor to the youngsters, the left-arm spinner KP Appanna in particular|
"I don't want to stop any youngster, but he should force me out with his performances. I keep telling Appanna, 'You have young legs, young hands, just keep pushing yourself.'"
How exactly does he help him? What does he say? "Last couple of games he was my room-mate. I want him to develop lots of things. Like how you have got to be more mature. I don't want him to face the same thing I did: waste five or six years in getting mature. Try and do it in two years.
"Appanna is going through the second-season blues. It is natural. But I am seeing improvement; it might not have translated into taking wickets, but his art is developing. I think he has bowled well, especially in the last two games. Yesterday he was named in the U-19 squad for South Africa and in the World Cup probables. You will see him bowl better now after this recognition. I can see the change in him. He was in a joyful mood and totally focused in the nets today. And that is the challenge that I have, to make him realise that whether you bowl well, bat well, have a bad day or match, you should remain what you are. Stay committed. Stay focussed."
Joshi does not want to gaze too much into the crystal ball. He has completed level 2 and level 3 of ECB coaching and he might walk that path. "I want to take it step by step. My focus is just to concentrate on the youngsters, focus on my fitness and lead by example. Within one or two years, the young cricketers can and should come to my level. And if that happens, I would have done my job." And when that day comes, Karnataka could be proud and thankful to their relentless soldier who kept turning in for work, day in and day out for more than sixteen years.
Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo