Two families in different parts of India went through emotional rollercoaster rides when Ishan Kishan walked in to bat at the biggest cricket stadium in the world against England. In Patna, Ishan’s father Pranav Kumar Pandey tensed up.
In Noida, Ishan’s coach Uttam Majumdar flashbacked to the days when the tiny boy would walk to his batting nets. Majumdar, who had lost his father to cancer on March 4, couldn’t control his emotions when Kishan dedicated the half-century to his deceased father. On debut, Kishan struck a brilliant 56 which enabled India to chase down 165 in the second T20 game.
“He was very close to my father. He was with me from the age of five-six. He is part of my family. I had casually told him before the game that if you score fifty, it will be a tribute to my father and he did it,” Majumdar said.
It was in 2005 that Majumdar had first seen Kishan who had come with his elder brother Rajkishan. Kishan’s father Pandey recalled the moment the coach told him, “don’t ever let your child stop playing cricket, he will be big one day”.
“He (Majumdar) said ‘kuch bhi karna, aapke ladke ka cricket band mat karna’. We had gone there for my elder son’s selection but Ishan impressed him the most,” the father explained over the phone from Patna. Majumdar says there was some “spark” in the young Kishan, the way he walked and the attitude too set him apart from other kids of similar age.
Post every net session, the coach would make Kishan face 300 throw-downs followed by 250 front-foot and 250 back-foot shadow practice strokes. “He had to play all shots — pull, cut, drive, every shot. My main aim was to make him a good back-foot player. If Ishan had to succeed at the top, he has to be good playing on the back-foot. There were days when 100 odd people used to turn up at the ground to see Ishan’s batting,” said Majumdar, who had played for Bihar under 22 and also with Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
At the age of 7, though he didn’t get a game, Kishan was the youngest player to be selected for the All India School Games held in Jammu. At 11, he led the Patna under-16 team in the same tournament.
Majumdar says it was his never-quit attitude that set Kishan apart. “Many times while playing the pull, he would get hit but would never cry; he would sip some water and start again. It was those sessions which are helping him now, look at the way he pulls to even the fastest bowlers in the world.”
Kishan’s cricketing career wouldn’t have perhaps leapfrogged had he remained in Patna. When Kishan was 12, the family had to take the most important decision of their life. “He was just a boy and his coach and everyone said that if he has to play higher cricket, he should migrate to Ranchi. His mother was upset but after a lot of discussions, we decided to send him to the neighbouring state. There was some fear in the mind, but Ishan was stubborn to go to Ranchi,” the father said.
Kishan was picked for the SAIL (Steel Authority of India Ltd.) team in the district cricket tournament in Ranchi. SAIL gave him one-room quarters which was shared by four other seniors. Since Kishan didn’t know cooking, his task was to clean the dishes and store water.
Once when his father visited him at Ranchi, a neighbour informed him that his son would sleep on an empty stomach on many days.
“His seniors used to go to play cricket in the nights, and on many occasions, he would sleep without eating; he never told us. This continued for two years. He would get some chips, Kurkure and Coca-Cola and sleep. When we used to call he used to lie that he had his dinner. Once we came to know, we decided we will rent a flat in Ranchi,” the father says. Kishan’s mother Suchitra moved in with her son in the new house.
At the age of 15, Kishan was picked for the Jharkhand Ranji side against Assam in Guwahati where he slammed 60 as an opener. He was picked for India under-19 and made captain of the world cup team coached by Rahul Dravid.
“That was the first time I felt that my son must be good as they made him the captain. More than that I felt at least now if nothing good happens ahead in cricket, he will get a government job. Padhayi-likhayi mein toh mann tha he nahi uska (he never had much interest in academics)” the father quiped.
He didn’t have any notable performance in that World Cup but didn’t lose hope. Majumdar said, “U-19 World Cup didn’t go as he wanted to but that was not the end of the world. More opportunity was waiting for him ahead. He did well for Jharkhand, scoring more than 800 runs in a season and the team entered semi-finals for the first time. It was the same year he was picked for Gujarat Lions in IPL.” However, it was Mumbai Indians who sculpted Ishan as a player, giving him confidence and allowing him the chances to improve his skill-set.
That’s all in the past; in the here and now, both the coach and the father are thrilled to bits. “All my life, I dreamt Ishan batting in a crowded stadium in the Indian jersey. The dream has finally come true, the hard work in the heat for all those years has paid off. He was very close to my father and it was a dream that we all saw together,” an emotional Majumdar said.
Pandey Sr still remembers how they weren’t able to find a kit for young Kishan because he was too small. Even as the father was indulging in nostalgia, his phone rings. It’s Kishan asking for the mother, but is told not to disturb either of them as both are busy! The father has a laugh as he shares the names his son has kept for him. “He has saved my name on his phone as Don 2. It used to be Mafia before!”