What's it like for Jharkhand lad Sunny Gupta to play for Tamil Nadu?
Last July, when M. S. Dhoni became an honorary member of the Madras Cricket Club, former Ranji cricketer and club member V. Ramnarayan supplied the line of the night.
“I think the membership is an elaborate ploy to convince Dhoni to play the Ranji Trophy for Tamil Nadu and add another title to his bag,” he said, tongue in cheek.
Jharkhand's most famous son — who Chennai has adopted as its own — hasn't the time to play Ranji Trophy cricket; he hasn't much time for anything, given he's India's and Chennai Super Kings' captain.
But Tamil Nadu did pick another Jharkhand boy — the relatively anonymous Sunny Gupta, 23 and an off-spinner.
Gupta isn't a stranger to Chennai. When younger, he had spent time at St. Patrick's School and Loyola College, but it wasn't until three years ago that he decided to shift base to a city he has grown rather fond of. It wasn't a painless decision. He says his family, which remains in Jharkhand, took time to come to terms with it.
“Getting a job with MRF helped with the decision,” he says. “And after these many years (in school and college), I had developed a strong bond with the city. The cricket set-up in Tamil Nadu is very professional. ‘Cricket first' is always the mantra here. The city's senior division league is highly competitive, it helps you grow. But that was not the case back in Jharkhand and that affected my progress quite a bit.”
So Gupta took a flat with Varun Aaron, the MRF fast-bowler who recently made his Test debut, and began to play for Globe Trotters. Although he couldn't speak fluent Tamil (he understands enough to get by), the transition was hassle-free — coach M. Senthilnathan and captain S. Sriram did their best to make him feel comfortable.
They also helped develop his game. Senthilnathan spoke of the importance of improving his batting to complement his bowling. Sriram gave him an insight into the thoughts and techniques of batsmen — “Sriram sir taught me how to make a batsman uncomfortable by manipulating his head position with my line and trajectory, how to make his head fall away so he will lose balance.”
With R. Ashwin getting the opportunity to play for India, Tamil Nadu's selectors looked for an off-spinner who could bat a bit, and chose Gupta. There was little in his first-class record for Jharkhand, for whom he played till last year, to suggest he would succeed. A bowling average of over 40 and a batting average of under 12 in 22 games aren't flash. But in only his second game for Tamil Nadu, Gupta played a vital role.
The match against Haryana will be remembered by the city's cricket fans for the thrilling chase Tamil Nadu almost pulled off. But if Gupta hadn't made 37 in a seventh-wicket partnership of 90 with Abhinav Mukund (who scored a double-hundred) in the first innings, the home side would have been in dire straits. Gupta also had match figures of five for 132.
He didn't play Tamil Nadu's next match, against Delhi, but he's grateful for every opportunity he receives. “It's magnificent to play for Tamil Nadu. It was a proud moment to take my first wicket for my new team and I hope to take many more. I am lucky to share such a high-quality dressing room. Every member of the team including the support staff has been welcoming. For me, it's a home away from home.”
Keywords: Ranji Trophy