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Record-breaking Ajay Rohera relives magical debut

Ajay Rohera acknowledges the applause after hitting 267* on debut PTI

Till the start of December, Ajay Rohera - the newest record-holder for most runs on first-class debut - had been methodically piling up runs in the CK Nayudu Trophy, the equivalent of the Ranji Trophy in India for the Under-23 age group. Four matches into the competition, he had already got 386 runs at an average of 55.14. He had begun with two fifties in his first two games, then 160 in his fourth match. That was an away game against Assam, at the Satindra Mohan Dev Stadium in Silchar.

With Madhya Pradesh just having completed victory by an innings and 28 runs, good news arrived. Rohera had earned a call-up to the senior team for the Ranji Trophy. Aged only 21, from a family who all followed cricket, this was big.

Of immediate concern though, was getting to Indore from Silchar. Rohera got news of his call-up in the later hours of December 3. And the senior team's match against Hyderabad was to begin on December 6. He needed to cover those 2500 kilometres in a day, so that he could at least have one training session with the senior team. When cricketers speak of their journeys being "an adventure", few might mean it literally.

"We left Silchar at 5am the next morning to go to Guwahati," Rohera told ESPNcricinfo. "From Guwahati we went to Kolkata, and from Kolkata to Delhi. I reached Delhi at 2pm, and my flight to Indore was at 8pm, so I reached Indore at 10pm. I practiced with the team for a day, and then made my debut the next day."

That debut, of course, is part of history now. Rohera had batted in the middle order in the CK Nayudu Trophy, but MP needed someone to partner Aryaman Birla at the top of the order. Both Mohnish Mishra and Ankit Dane had played two games each, without scoring a single half-century between them in seven combined innings. Enter Rohera.

His initial moments were streaky - a four edged through slips, another squirted past point off a thick edge. But he stayed, and as he stayed, the confidence in his shot-making increased. On the first day, he went to stumps on 81 not out, a century on debut in sight. Before stumps on the second day, he had hit a six to go from 249 to 255, and was one hit away from breaking a record set by someone he looks up to.

Rohera didn't know that when he was batting, but was told of the record when he went back. "It was my debut, I just wanted to enjoy myself," he said. "My father told me not to take on too much load, just do what I've been doing so far and enjoy it. I also didn't over-think it, I just saw the ball and played. When I was on 255 not out at the end of the day and I came back to the dressing room, I got to know that I'm five runs away from equalling the record."

Amol Muzumdar had made 260 against Haryana in February 1994. Last year, Muzumdar was also the batting coach for a bunch of Under-23 cricketers gathered at the NCA in Bangalore for a month-long camp. Muzumdar remembers the camp and Rohera well. But for the younger man, it was more than just a memory.

"I learned so much from him - technique and batting," Rohera said. "I am very inspired by his life story. He's the only player who couldn't play for India despite scoring 10,000 runs (in first-class cricket). The way he kept going despite that. He's a very good person, whatever I praise him will not be enough."

When Rohera duly broke Muzumdar's record on the third day and the innings was declared with him on 267 not out, Muzumdar tweeted out his congratulations to the new record-holder. He wouldn't have known then, that he also prompted Rohera to get on to the social-media platform just to be able to offer thanks.

"When he tweeted congratulations to me, I told him 'Thank you' on Twitter. I made an account only that day," Rohera said.

While Muzumdar might have been mildly surprised that a 21-year-old was not on Twitter, he didn't have any doubts about Rohera's potential with the bat. "Yes, of course, I remember him," Muzumdar told ESPNcricinfo. "Obviously he has got that natural talent, and that is why he was picked for the camp too. I think about 20-odd people were there for that camp. I was very pleased that one of the guys that I know went on to break the record.

"I didn't do anything specific as such with them, but we had a great time. The camp was for a month or 35 days. It was among the most talented groups that I've worked with."

Apart from Muzumdar's praise, what made the occasion complete for Rohera was having his entire family at the Holkar Cricket Stadium to watch his debut. They didn't have as much of a trek to get there, having driven down from Dewas - where the entire joint-family lives - to Indore, just 40 kilometres away.

"We are about 15-20 people. They all came to see my debut, all of the extended family," Rohera said. "They all follow cricket, and it's been like that from the start. The credit for letting me pursue a career in cricket goes to my father. He told me to do whatever I wanted in life. I just told him that I want to play cricket, and he was like, "Enjoy your life then. Just ensure that if you are choosing that, 'pura man laga ke khelna' [play with all your heart]. When I got picked for the senior team, the first person I called was papa. He's always the first one I call."

The family jointly runs an ice-cream business in Dewas. Growing up with an unlimited supply of ice cream is a common childhood fantasy, but as Rohera grew older, he knew that he couldn't indulge indiscriminately. Not if he wanted to pursue cricket seriously. He wouldn't have known, though, that something even sweeter was in store.