A SMALL general provisions store in Kotgaon, Ghaziabad, has been the centre of attention since Sunday evening, when Siddharth, son of the shopkeeper Shravan Yadav, was selected to represent the country. The top-order batsman is part of the India under-19 squad for the upcoming Asia Cup, followed by the World Cup in January. The senior Yadav is elated, so are his customers.
As Shravan narrates his son’s journey, the telephonic conversation is frequently punctuated by “Aapko bhi bohot mubarak ho (congratulations to you too)”, as the father exchanges greetings with the regulars at his shop.
Siddharth’s story is not dissimilar to that of several others from India’s smaller towns not traditionally known for producing cricketing talent. The presence in the team of players from across the country’s vast and diverse geography is a reminder of the spread of the game, and the reach of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Among these stories are those of wicket-keeper batsman Dinesh Bana from Hisar, pacer Vasu Vats from Saharanpur, and his new-ball partner Rajvardhan Hangargekar from Osmanabad.
Some in the squad have sporting DNA. Delhi-born Mumbai batsman Angkrish Raghuvanshi’s father Avneesh played tennis for India, and mother Malika represented the country in volleyball. Batsman Harnoor Singh’s father Birinder Singh was a Punjab under-19 cricketer. All-rounder Raj Angad Bawa’s father Sukhwinder is a reputed coach in Chandigarh.
But the core of the team is formed by first-generation cricketers, starting with the captain Yash Dhull. His family was never serious about sport — and it was due to the constant support of his late grandfather Jagat Singh, a retired Armyman, that Dhull could make it big.
Batsman Kaushal Tambe’s father is an assistant commissioner of police in Maharashtra, and Bengal pacer Ravikumar’s father is an assistant sub-inspector in the CRPF.
Shopkeeper Shravan Yadav’s cricketing credentials are limited to once bowling to former India cricketer Manoj Prabhakar in the nets in Ghaziabad, but his passion for the game is limitless — and it has been inherited by his son.
“When he (Siddharth) was young, it was my dream to see him playing cricket one day. When he held the bat for the first time, he stood left-handed. My mother said, ‘yeh kaisa ulta khada ho gaya hai (why is he standing the wrong way?)’. I said this is what his stance will be, and he has been a left-handed batsman ever since,” Shravan says.
Siddharth’s journey as a serious cricketer began when he was eight. The fulfilment of his father’s dream required hard work and sacrifice.
Every afternoon, Shravan took his son to a nearby ground and gave throwdowns that Siddharth had to play with a straight bat. “I made sure he did that for about three hours. I closed my shop at 2 pm, and we would be at the ground until 6. Then I would go back to the shop,” Shravan recalls.
“I would have dinner by 10.30 pm and then, when I hit the bed, mujhe hosh hi nahi rehta tha (I would pass out with exhaustion).”
Not everyone in the family was supportive. Siddharth’s grandmother wanted him to concentrate on studies.
“She felt it was like gambling. If nothing happens, zindagi kharab ho jaayegi, aawara ho jaayega (he will ruin his life, he will go rogue),” Siddharth said. “But my father was determined. It was his dream that I had to follow.”
Siddharth’s progress accelerated with the entry of two Ajays in his life: Ajay Yadav, father of another India under-19 cricketer Aaradhya Yadav, and former India cricketer Ajay Sharma, who became his coach. It was during an under-16 trial that Siddharth’s father urged Ajay Yadav to find a good coach for his son.
Siddharth was selected in Uttar Pradesh’s under-16 team, and he became the highest scorer for the state that season, with one double hundred and five centuries. He was then picked for the Zonal Cricket Academy, and later went to the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru.
After the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to domestic cricket last season, the BCCI picked the teams for the under-19 Challenger Trophy, keeping the upcoming World Cup in the West Indies in mind. Siddharth finished as the second-highest run-getter in the Challengers, slamming a hundred and three fifties. He was picked for the U-19 tri-series featuring Bangladesh and two Indian teams, where he played three games and was unbeaten on 43 once.
For Siddharth, the call-up is just the beginning of the journey. He is a simple boy who does not like to venture out much, and does not want to splurge on gadgets or movies like many of his friends.
“Financially, there was always a crunch, but I never wanted to ask my family about it. My teammates used to go to the movies or do some shopping but I never went with them. I don’t like to roam around or spend unnecessarily,” Siddharth said.
Father Shravan is reminded of the many who predicted Siddharth’s success.
“I don’t remember the names of those Ranji players now, but they used to tell me ‘bhai, isko kaala dhagaa bandh do, yeh ladka India khelega (Tie a black thread to protect him from the evil eye, he will play for India),” Shravan says, his voice choking with emotion. “All those conversations are coming back to me today.”