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Chetan Sakariya, the boy who made a 'rich man's sport' his own

Chetan Sakariya loads up in his delivery stride Chetan Sakariya

"Why did you get run-out? Couldn't you say no? Anyway, now concentrate on your bowling and take five wickets tomorrow." Chetan Sakariya's father was not pleased with his son's dismissal during Saurashtra's Ranji Trophy semi-final against Gujarat in Rajkot.

Primarily a left-arm seamer, Sakariya bats at No. 11 in the Saurashtra line-up but was promoted up the order to stop a collapse. He not only held one end but also scored 45 before getting run-out on his partner Arpit Vasavada's call. This is Sakariya's second Ranji Trophy season, and by now he is used to such instructions from his father.

"He always says score a fifty and take five wickets," Sakariya says.

His family hails from Vartej, a small town ten kilometres west of Gujarat's Bhavnagar district. There is still no television at home, so his father goes to his friend's shop to watch whenever the 22-year-old is playing.

However, there was a time when his father, Kanjibhai, wasn't in favour of Sakariya pursuing cricket. Straitened finances were at the root of his displeasure. Kanjibhai used to transport goods in a tempo traveller to make ends meet for a family of five. The parents wanted Sakariya to focus on his studies so that he could get a government job.

"They used to say cricket is rich people's sport, one needs connections, there's no future for us here," Sakariya recalls.

At times, Sakariya had to lie at home in order to play cricket. But then his maternal uncle stepped in. "My uncle is a distributor of stationery products in Bhavnagar. He taught me how to do billing etc on a computer. He told me he would take care of my tuition fee and will also let me play if I could help a little bit in his business."

Sakariya was playing a district tournament for his school when Rajendra Gohil, the coach at the Sir Bhavsinhji Cricket Academy, spotted the youngster and asked him to join the academy. Soon he was selected for Saurashtra Under-16s but didn't get a chance to play. He worked hard on his game for a year but then hit a roadblock.

"When I was 17, I got a glute injury," he says. "That time I didn't realise what it was. It used to hurt a lot but I just kept on bowling. As a result, it got aggravated. During that time my pace had also dropped. People used to say earlier you used to bowl fast but now you run in and bowl spin.

"I wasn't aware of the concept rehab back then and it took a long time to heal on its own. In fact, for a period of 7-8 months, I didn't play any cricket. Then during one of the school games, our school coach asked me to play. So slowly I started playing again. Things were not looking great but there was that passion inside. So I started practising again."

Sakariya's hard work paid off when he got selected for the Saurashtra Under-19 side. Playing in the Cooch Behar Trophy, he picked up 18 wickets in six games, including 5 for 84 against Karnataka Under-19 to help his side to a first-innings lead. Impressed by his performance, the Saurashtra Cricket Association sent him to the MRF Pace Foundation.

"I gave trials and impressed Glenn [McGrath] sir with my nippy pace and natural swing. He told me if I worked on my action and fitness, I could add another 5kph to my pace and be a 130kph bowler. He said if I could do that, I could at least play at the Ranji Trophy level."

Sakariya's run-up starts with a little hop. "Earlier, I used to copy Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan's actions. But when Junaid Khan came to India in 2012-13, he troubled Virat Kohli and company a lot. Then I started imitating him, including the jump at the start of the run-up."

But before joining the MRF academy, Sakariya didn't even own a pair of spikes. After his exploits in the Cooch Behar Trophy, Sheldon Jackson, who is from Bhavnagar, called the youngster to bowl to him in the nets.

"That time he [Jackson] used to play IPL, so he was a big player for me. He told me if I could get him out, he would give me new spikes. Till then I didn't have spikes of my own. Even at Cooch Behar, I played with someone else's shoes. That day, I bowled him, and he gave me my first pair of spikes. When I went to the MRF Academy, I took those shoes with me."

During the 2018-19 season, Sakariya got selected for the Syed Mushtaq Trophy but didn't a chance in the XI. Later, he made his List A debut in the Vijay Hazare Trophy but played only one game. The big break came during the Ranji Trophy.

"That year Jaydev [Unadkat] bhai had an injury and I got a call-up for the match against Gujarat. I took a five-for on debut, played till the final and ended the season with 29 wickets from eight matches.

"Then again I went to the MRF Academy. I had jotted down my mistakes from the first season, the areas I need to work upon. My strengths, my weaknesses. After the last season, I got to know I was a different bowler with the new ball and a slightly lesser one with the old ball. So I wanted to work on that, work on the reverse swing. Wanted to work on increasing my pace."

However, another roadblock was around the corner.

"While training there, I got a stress fracture of the back. So once again progress was stalled. I took me almost four and a half months to get back to full fitness."

In the meantime, the domestic season was about to start. After missing the Vijay Hazare Trophy due to injury, he played in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy but was rusty.

"Same thing happened in the Ranji Trophy. The rhythm wasn't there and due to my back problem I couldn't train much. So I couldn't bowl those long spells I was bowling last season. Pace has also dropped a bit. Last year I had taken 29 wickets, so the goal was to take at least 35 wickets this season. Unfortunately that's not going to happen."

Sakariya has just 11 wickets from six games this Ranji season, with only the final remaining. That's a thought that causes some gloom, but his face lights up when remember the journey that's brought him to this place. Like his first salary. "I had got 7000 rupees for playing four matches in the 2013-14 Vijay Merchant Trophy," he says, eyes twinkling. "I didn't spend even a single penny from it and gave the whole amount to my dad.

"In fact, to save money, I used to eat at cheap places. But then last season, I got food poisoning on the eve of a match. Since then, I eat only at good restaurants."

Sakariya describes the family's finances as "still very difficult" even while acknowledging things have gotten much better. "There are my sister's tuition fees. Her wedding. Brother's wedding," he reels off. "Monthly expenses. Have to buy a new home also, right now we five people live in one room and one hall. It's like a start from zero."

His family's support, on the other hand, has zoomed to 100.