Sport can transform lives. And the story of cricketer M. Mohammed from small-town Dindigul bears testimony to it
The story of M. Mohammed is one you might be familiar with. While it isn’t exactly rags-to-riches stuff, such tales are worthy examples of sport’s transformative influence; of its role as a healer, as a change agent. Originally designed to be an elitist pastime and patronised by the big cities, cricket has, in due course, percolated into non-urban areas. A significant increase in the number of small-towners making it to the National team (the present captain hails from Ranchi) has helped accelerate the game’s broadening appeal.
Twenty-one-year-old Mohammed, who made his first-class debut for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy last year, is one of many such cricketers thirsting to emerge from obscurity. Born and raised in Dindigul, the fast bowler’s first cricket tutor was Mohammed Raffik, the eldest of four brothers, who plays in the TNCA Chennai league. “He has always encouraged me. I played a lot of tennis ball cricket growing up. Everyday after school, I would bowl to members of the APCC team (in the Dindigul league), which Raffik was part of.”
When Mohammed attended the selection trials for the under-15 District team, his exposure to the cricket ball was minimal. During his time with the Combined Districts side later, Mohammed attended two preparatory camps, in Theni and Chennai, where he played on turf wickets for the first time.
Soon, Mohammed graduated to playing for UFCC (T. Nagar) and, then, for India Pistons in Chennai’s first division league. The tall youngster’s routine, for a number of years, has involved travelling 14-15 km everyday from his home in Annamalaiyar Mills Colony to the coaching camp. He had to cover twice the distance when he joined a school in Batlagundu to pursue Class XII. Coming from a financially unsound background, Mohammed had to overcome a number of odds.
A father figure
“My father, who’s in the scrap business, earned Rs. 7,000 a month. With five children, it was difficult for him to make ends meet. Naturally, I couldn’t afford even the bus fare. In Chennai, I would be the odd man out with my tattered kit bag and heavily-taped bat. I used to yearn for better facilities in Dindigul. It was (Dindigul District Cricket Association Secretary) N. Venkataraman sir who would pay for my conveyance and bought me shoes and kit. He’s a father figure to me and I would like to thank him for all I have now. I am also very thankful to (India Pistons coach) Jaffer (Ashiq Ali) sir and Chandramouli sir.”
Currently employed with the India Pistons as an Executive Manager, Mohammed’s financial worries have eased a bit. However, he has resisted moving to Chennai all the while. “I am planning to shift base next year and pursue my post-graduation,” says Mohammed, who’s completed his BSc (IT) from GTN College, Dindigul.
A proud moment
He admits that he didn’t expect to play in the Ranji Trophy. “I took 30 wickets in the first division last season but didn’t see the selection coming. I was clueless about many technicalities until I played for Tamil Nadu. With my debut (against Odisha) washed out, my ‘first’ game was against Karnataka in Chennai. That the match was televised made me very nervous. But it was a proud moment for my family and people in my neighbourhood to see me on TV.”
Mohammed describes the Tamil Nadu dressing room as a “jolly” place. “Bala anna (captain L. Balaji) asked how I felt after my first day in first-class cricket. I replied that I was nervous. He assured me it was normal to feel that way. Others like (K.) Dinesh Karthik and S. Badrinath made me feel very comfortable. VB (Chandrasekhar) sir and (D.J.) Gokulakrishnan sir were also very helpful.”
Mohammed has a ready answer when asked about his goals: he wants to play in the IPL next year and the Indian team thereafter. Why the IPL before International cricket, we are tempted to ask. “It’s my desire to play alongside many world-class players and it’s a good platform for International cricket. It would be a dream come true to play with my idol Sachin Tendulkar before he retires,” smiles ‘Momi,’ who also admires Brett Lee and Andrew Flintoff.”