Gujarat faced the blast from home talent Avi Barot’s blade in a six-wicket defeat at Haryana’s hands at the Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 Super League. The Ahmedabad-born youngster stroked eight fours and slammed a six at the SCA stadium, Khanderi, giving momentum to the visitors’ pursuit of a challenging 146 in 20 overs.
Haryana’s top-scorer Barot (56 runs, 37 balls) was once Gujarat’s own, he switched sides last season to get first-class opportunities before frustration could get the better of him. He opened the batting for his adopted state with captain Rahul Dewan and succeeded in unsettling the Gujarat bowlers in a 94-runs first wicket stand.
A clean hitter and excellent timer of the ball, the 21-year-old right-hander was applauded by Haryana teammates on the walk back to the dressing room. “Players are very supportive. Atmosphere in our dressing room is positive,” was Barot’s first reaction to describing a novel experience of playing for a visiting team against his home State.
The youngster moved to Haryana in 2013 and was handed his T20 debut in 2014 Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 North Zone game against Punjab, getting the opportunity to have a close look at Harbhajan Singh. He has also played Ranji Trophy for them. When asked to quantify comfort level in a new set-up, Barot replied: “I was not getting runs in a couple of games. Teammates rallied around me.”
Refusing to be drawn into a comparison between cricket environment between Gujarat and Haryana, he appreciates encouragement coming his way. “It is tough coming from another state in another part of India and getting to play Ranji in my first season.” He made first-class debut for Haryana under Amit Mishra and medium-pacer Mohit Sharma was another international in the squad.
Barot came up through the ranks in Gujarat, represented the U-19 squad, progressed to India U-19 and was named BCCI U-19 Cricketer of the Year 2010-11 for performances as wicket-keeper/batsman in Cooch Behar Trophy. He scored 45 on Ranji Trophy debut under Parthiv Patel for Gujarat in 2011 against Delhi.
He opened the batting and kept wickets from the junior ranks and found himself competing for the same slot with India wicket-keeper Parthiv after breaking into the Ranji squad. Barot became the third wicket-keeper/batsman in the squad when India U-19 star Smit Patel returned to first-class cricket after winning the World Cup U-19.
Forced into a decision about his future, the youngster knocked on another door when realization dawned on him that Gujarat skipper Parthiv will always be the first choice as wicket-keeper/batsman. Fast bowler Harshal Patel, a former Gujarat player switched allegiance to Haryana, offered a solution.
Barot and Harshal played together for India U-19. “Harshal suggested I try to get into the Haryana team. He was familiar with the situation I was in and the wheels moved faster when Haryana Cricket Association official Anirudh Chaudhury was sounded out,” explained the Ahmedabad boy about the career move to leave home base and try his luck elsewhere.
He is back in familiar environs, competing against former teammates representing Gujarat, the defending T20 champion in the Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Smit Patel is leading the state side, taking over from first-choice skipper Parthiv. “For a youngster like me, this is a chance to show what I am capable of,” said the Haryana opener, happy about his run-making during the North Zone T20.
He cracked 51 off 42 balls against a Delhi attack boasting of Ishant Sharma, Sumeet Narwal and Pawan Suyal and also opened against Punjab in the same event this year. The big names are missing for the Rajkot T20 Super League for the Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2014, but that does not dampen Barot’s enthusiasm.
“It is not that Haryana qualified for the Super League without facing the big names. The North Zone T20 had Harbhajan Singh for Punjab, Delhi played Ishant Sharma, Rajat Bhatia, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag,” points out the youngster, entrusted with the opening slot.
Haryana had stunned defending champion Gujarat on Wednesday at Rajkot’s newly-built Saurashtra Cricket Association stadium, downed Jharkhand on Thursday. India’s best U-19 cricketer at one time is rubbing shoulders with the seniors and in both games made an impact as a free-stroking batsman.
Competition can be cruel on young minds in a cricket-crazy state like Gujarat, which imports experienced hands like Venugopal Rao from Hyderabad to stabilise Ranji squads.
For U-19 talents like Barot, the choice is between stagnation at home in the senior ranks or recognition outside the state. Following in the footsteps of Harshal, now a regular in the Haryana Ranji squad and familiar to T20 audiences across India for IPL performances with RCB, he chose to walk the same path.