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Updated: January 2, 2014 18:48 IST

New pace whiz

SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA
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H.S. Sharath’s good performances in the Ranji Trophy is a tale of commitment and hard work

As Mumbai’s resistance crumbled to pieces at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium this last week, H.S. Sharath’s every act was cheered with a gusto reserved for no one else. They serenaded him each time he rumbled in to bowl; and when he had done his bit, they clamoured for some more. It is the same up north in Hubli and magnified ten times down in Mysore.

Sharath, Karnataka’s happy 20-year-old fast-bowler from Mandya, is not merely popular; he is loved. “Maybe it is because I come from a village,” he grins. “They see me as one of their own, someone who has lived that life and come up the hard way.”

In 12 Ranji Trophy matches, over two seasons now, he has taken a handsome 49 wickets. Over Mumbai, his eight wickets from the two innings earned him a man-of-the-match, and helped Karnataka to a maiden first-class win over the opponent after 71 years of trying. “It all feels strange and incredible sometimes,” he says. “But when I think about how hard I’ve worked for this – I know it’s real.”

Five wicket haul

On his first-class debut last year in Meerut, Sharath exploded onto the scene with a five-for, among his wickets, one he’ll never forget. “I bowled an in-swinger to Suresh Raina. He came on to the front-foot but was bowled. There he was, an India player I’d been watching on TV, and I had actually taken his wicket. It was hard to believe.”

Four years previously, though, Sharath had not even played leather-ball cricket. “When I started serious cricket, I didn’t know how far I could go in the sport or what I could achieve. I came from a village and I didn’t know what was what. Then I played for the state under-19s, and as I watched Ranji Trophy games here, I gradually realized that cricket could take me somewhere if I worked hard.”

That hard work is a recurring theme. His father, Shivalingaiah, who watched him in a competitive game for the first time last week, is a farmer. His village, Hosagavi, is a 25km journey from Mandya, where he went to pre-university. Often, he missed the last bus home for cricket practice. “I’d walk home sometimes, alone in the dark, wondering if cricket was worth all the trouble.” It was.

“Nobody knew who I was, earlier. Now when I go back to the village, everyone is talking that Sharath has arrived. We are not well off and everything that I have earned is through cricket. Everything is for my family.”

It helps that Sharath is part of a strong, spirited Karnataka team. In the seam-bowling department, he has Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun – his room-mate on tour – for guidance.

“They have so much experience. They’re helping me all the time. Mithun always reminds me that my parents have sacrificed so much for me and I should not stop working hard.”

This Karnataka side, he says, is like a family. “If you aren’t like that, you can’t succeed. In some teams, if the bowlers go for runs, the batsmen blame them. If the batsmen are not scoring, the bowlers blame them. There’s no such thing with this team.”

Sharath bowls steadily in the early 130s now but admits that he has to bowl quicker. “My pace has to improve. I’ve been visiting the MRF Pace Foundation (in Chennai) for two years now. Glenn McGrath, who took over from Dennis Lillee as director, has told me what to do.” He wants to play for India, he states confidently, in two years’ time. “I still have a lot to learn; I will keep working hard.”

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