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Feature

When Paul Valthaty's star burned brightly but briefly one IPL season

Before Yashasvi Jaiswal overtook him, the former Kings XI Punjab batter had the record for the highest IPL score by an uncapped Indian

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
05-May-2023
In 2011, Valthaty (right) could do no wrong, following his unbeaten 120 with 75 and four wickets in his next game  •  Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

In 2011, Valthaty (right) could do no wrong, following his unbeaten 120 with 75 and four wickets in his next game  •  Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

"It's such a fast-paced city. If you don't live up to the pace, you're gone, you're out of the race. It can be brutal."
Paul Valthaty is talking about Mumbai, sitting on a terrace overlooking Brabourne Stadium. The night before, around 700 metres away, at the Wankhede Stadium, his long-standing IPL record for the highest score by an uncapped Indian batter was broken by another young man who cut his teeth on the city's maidans, Yashasvi Jaiswal.
"That word, 'uncapped', won't last with him too long," Valthaty says. "He's someone who has grown up in the Mumbai stable and has got runs in all formats. The way he attacked bowlers, taking someone like Jofra [Archer] apart, it shows the kind of talent that the boy has. It was a terrific innings.
"For him to break my uncapped-player record, it just gave me pleasure that it was a solid batsman and a top cricketer who did it - someone like Yashasvi, who has had a wonderful season. Not just this year, but for two or three years he's been doing really well. It's very heartening to see someone coming from such humble beginnings, and the level he has reached."
Valthaty knows better than most how fickle the sport can be. Twelve years ago he was the breakout star of IPL 2011, hitting an unbeaten 120 for Kings XI Punjab against Chennai Super Kings in a 463-run season. Yet he played only seven more games in the competition, losing form and favour after an injury that derailed his professional career.
Having watched Valthaty emerge and then disappear from back home in the UK as a teenager, I decided to track him down in Mumbai to find out what happened. "My close friends, my family, they know that I speak about my career in two halves - and the IPL [doesn't mark the end of] one of them," Valthaty says. "It's before 2002, when I got hit, and after."
At the start of that year, he was opening the batting for India at the Under-19 World Cup when a short ball snuck through the gap between the visor and grille of his helmet. "It popped up and hit my right eye," he recalls. "And everything came to an abrupt standstill."
The ball shattered his retina and put his cricketing career on hold. He eventually came back after "four or five laser surgeries" but his vision remained imperfect. To this day, he suffers from diplopia or double vision. "When I started playing again, I couldn't judge depth because of the mismatched vision," he says. "I used to be in tears after net sessions."
After impressing at a trial, Valthaty played two games for defending champions Rajasthan Royals in the 2009 IPL in South Africa but it was not until 2011 that his big break arrived. Kings XI offered him a deal on the back of his form for Mumbai in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy; after batting at No. 3 in their opening game, he was promoted to open alongside captain Adam Gilchrist in a chase of 190 against CSK.
"The stage got the better of me in 2009 - a huge occasion, live TV, all these top cricketers around me," Valthaty says. "Coming into 2011, I was aware of what I had to overcome. My good friend Abhishek Nayar and I did a lot of training in the two-three months prior, and I felt really prepared; somehow I felt as though this was going to be the season for me.
"I thought, 'If they are getting 190, it's a good pitch', and I tried to erase the crowd and focus. I hit my first four, then I got a chance when Albie Morkel dropped me at mid-off. From there, I almost functioned like a machine, working out which bowlers I needed to target, which fielders I could take on."
As Valthaty slashed Morkel over short third for four to reach a 52-ball century, "I realised that suddenly the entire crowd - which were before that cheering against us because [MS] Dhoni was playing and India had just won the World Cup - suddenly they are taking my name.
"DK [Dinesh Karthik] came down and hugged me tight, and told me to keep focused. He didn't let me celebrate too much, because we still had to win the game." They duly did, Karthik clinching the victory with Valthaty unbeaten on 120 at the far end.
It was the night his life changed. Amit Yadav, an offspinner from Goa, turned to him on the bus on the way back to the hotel. "He said, 'When we were going to the game, you were one of us, a normal cricketer. Right now, you have become a star.' Suddenly I was the centre of attention."
Of all the adulation he received, one interaction sticks in his mind. "I was doing my sets in the gym before we played Mumbai Indians," Valthaty says, "when suddenly, Sachin Tendullkar is in front of me. He spoke to me in Marathi and said, 'I've seen your batting, you're doing really well; keep pushing. All of us in Mumbai are proud of you.'
"That's the one thing that will always remain close to my heart. He's always been my role model: I used to idolise him and everything he did. Our coaches used to make us watch his batting and copy his style in everything. For him to come to me and congratulate me, that was special."
Everything went Valthaty's way that season. In his next game he took four wickets then hit 75, and by the end of the season, he was being touted for further recognition across formats. But when selected for the 50-over Challenger Trophy in late 2011, he started to feel constrained at the crease by a wrist injury.
He visited John Gloster, the former India physiotherapist, who diagnosed a ganglion in his left wrist - "the body part I used the most in my batting" - and suggested surgery. "I was so naïve," Valthaty says. "I was so happy that I was getting opportunities, and didn't want to miss them." He delayed the operation, instead attempting to treat the injury with cortisone injections.
When IPL 2012 arrived, Valthaty was out of form and struggling to hold the bat properly. "I had a horrible season," he recalls. He made 30 runs in the six innings, including five successive single-figure scores, and found himself in and out of the side. He eventually had surgery in London later that year but managed a solitary appearance in IPL 2013 and drifted out of the professional game.
"The bus had moved on," he says. "I knew Mumbai wasn't going to wait for me. Without trying to blame anyone, I feel like someone - whether it's my franchise, my state - could have handled me better, but it wasn't meant to be. The Almighty had other plans for me."
The IPL's evolution over the last decade - better scouting, deeper support networks, more professionalism - means that Valthaty's story is unlikely to be repeated. He bristles at the phrase "one-season wonder" and frames his experience not as a case of unfulfilled potential but as a triumph against the adversity of injury.
"Nothing happens by fluke," he says. "After the struggle, I feel like I had a successful career - not hugely successful, but I paid my dues. I'm pretty happy and satisfied in life: cricket has been very kind to me."
Now 39, Valthaty made forays into broadcasting last year and also runs two academies on the outskirts of Mumbai - one in Kandivali, the other in Thane. "Being from the suburban part of the city, we didn't always have a lot of cricket grounds," he explains. "Young players save a lot of time if they have some kind of facility in their suburb."
And who knows? Perhaps, in time, one of them will rival Jaiswal's new record.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98