Great debut season. Heartbreaking injury. Loss of form. But Sudeep Tyagi did enough in his first season of first-class cricket to merit a central contract, and to be retained by the Chennai Super Kings. Kanishkaa Balachandran met him
Sudeep Tyagi remembers the moment like it happened yesterday. It was the first morning of Uttar Pradesh's opening Ranji Trophy encounter last season at Cuttack's Barabati Stadium. The captain Mohammad Kaif had tossed the new ball to two rookies, Abid Khan and Tyagi, making their first-class debuts. Rashmi Ranjan Parida, the Orissa opener, took guard to Tyagi in his third over.
Tyagi remembers his second delivery going straight through, hardly troubling the batsman, so he decided to try something different. The next nipped back in sharp enough to shatter Parida's stumps. It was a sign of things to come as Tyagi, in his following over, ripped out two more wickets in successive balls to send Orissa reeling at 8 for 3.
"Since I was new, probably he [Parida] didn't take me too seriously," Tyagi recounts. "He was clearly surprised by that incutter. That's still my favourite wicket."
The sound that emanated from the stumps signaled Tyagi's arrival, and his early burst was no fluke. He ended the match with a ten-wicket haul, took nine in his second game, and his contributions were instrumental in helping UP through to the knockout stages. In the semi-final, he pounded Saurashtra with eight wickets. UP's defeat in the summit clash was, no doubt, a huge setback, but if they had to smile through the pain, they just needed to turn to a tall, lean, and lively right-arm seamer, who emerged from practically nowhere to finish the highest wicket-taker across the two leagues with 41 wickets.
A few months later, he was turning out for India A. Dizzying heights indeed for a 19-year old in only his debut season. It's not that Tyagi hasn't seen failure. He remembers several instances in the past when he had to face rejection in fast-bowling trials, only to return home to listen to his mother trying to talk him out of cricket and chase a more lucrative profession. Fortunately, he didn't have to look too far to find someone to support his ambitions, both financially and emotionally.
"I never used to play much cricket to begin with, but I loved watching it," he says. "When I was 13 or 14, watching cricket became a habit for me. That's when I took it seriously. My dad [a clerk in the registry office] supported me a lot, and getting equipment was never a problem. He kept encouraging me despite repeated failures."
Curiously Tyagi didn't rise through the ranks of junior cricket, and neither does he have any experience in age-group tournaments. It was to his misfortune, at least back then, that he was among a competitive structure in the state, when close to 900 bowlers would show up for the state Under-22 trials, with each given just 10 deliveries to impress the scouts. Over the space of four days, Tyagi says, the number would be trimmed down to 30.
Tyagi couldn't quite make the grade in those sessions, and after hitting several roadblocks, luck finally smiled on him in the form of Kaif and Gyanendra Pandey, a former UP captain, now the team's coach.
"Pandey and Kaif spotted me in the nets, and asked me to play one U-22 game," said. "I got just two wickets, but I bowled well." It was a decision they wouldn't regret.
Tyagi was however fortunate to find a vacancy in the UP senior side, when the left-arm seamer Shalabh Srivastava defected to the rebel Indian Cricket League. It's not often that the state is left high and dry when it comes to searching for able replacements. The poor infrastructure, practice facilities and lack of proper gymnasiums are hardly the proper breeding grounds for promising cricketers to flourish, but somehow they find a way to rise above the odds. What the state lacks in opulence, it compensates with players with enormous self belief, and Tyagi's rise is another example of that.
He represents the funnel-shaped structure of Indian cricket, which has seen several players emerging from small towns, with UP being the prime example. Tyagi hails from Ghaziabad, a satellite town near New Delhi, one which also produced Suresh Raina.
Now two seasons old, he's fully aware of the demands of a season and has woken up to the importance of physical training. Having missed out on the experience of age-group cricket and its demands, his levels of endurance were put to test when he bowled close to 300 overs last season. It took a heavy toll on him physically, resulting in a stress fracture to the back, which ruled him out of the IPL. The Chennai Super Kings turned to Manpreet Gony as his replacement.
One man's loss was another man's gain, as Gony made his international ODI debut after he struck a purple patch with Chennai. Tyagi unfortunately couldn't be among the several domestic stars who became household names during the IPL. When asked about the emotions in his mind during that setback, Tyagi matter-of-factly shrugged it off as destiny.
"I wasn't even fit to train for the IPL. I felt I missed out on a good opportunity. It's all destiny. I was supposed to get injured, and I got injured.
"Earlier, my approach to fitness was just a simple jog near my house, before hitting the nets. Now, I understand the importance of training and knowledge of the various muscles. My bowling action remains the same."
Just as he was working his way back to fitness at Bangalore's National Cricket Academy, he was booking his tickets to head back home when, out of the blue he received a call-up to the India A side. His reverse-swing made the Australians sit up as he regularly rattled the stumps to finish with figures of 4 for 42, one that had the coaches of both sides speak highly of his abilities. Tyagi claims that his extra pace and swing are his natural attributes.
"In India they place a greater emphasis on bowlers with extra pace. Reverse swing and speed are my natural weapons," he says. "At least 30 of those 40 odd wickets last season were down to reverse-swing."
It wouldn't be fair, in his own estimate, to say that he has arrived, especially after a lacklustre second season, when he has not found his touch and has struggled even to make the final UP XI. Dav Whatmore, his A coach, praised his work ethic, but cautioned him into not getting carried away after one fledging domestic season.
Well, that fledging season has been followed by a testing season (five wickets in three matches). His true character will be known in the IPL, and in the next season.