When Krunal Pandya broke down at the thought of his late father in the post-innings chat with the broadcasters after walloping the fastest ODI fifty on debut, his long-time coach Jitendra Singh rewound to a particular moment.
“Tell me honestly, will Krunal play for India? Khelega yeh?’ is what his father used to ask. Not many know that more than Hardik, it was Krunal that his father Himanshu bhai dreamt would play for India. I can understand where KP’s emotional reactions came from. Krunal has his father’s name written on his bat.”
But circumstances conspired to derail the dream. Around 2008, his father suffered his first heart attack. During the following years, till 2014, the family business didn’t do well.
Papa, with every ball you were always on my mind and in my heart. Tears rolled down my face as I felt your presence with me. Thank you for being my strength, for being the biggest support I’ve had. I hope I made you proud. This is for you Papa, everything we do is for you Papa ❤️ pic.twitter.com/djQWaytETG
“Himanshubhai’s heart attack was the first blow. Then his business went down. The money dried up. One dream he had was about Krunal playing for India. Hardik was still young, then. But the financial troubles meant Krunal was distressed and distracted. He was young but the elder son. As the years went, especially during financial troubles, he started to drift. ‘Paisa kahan sey aayega (where will the money come from), how will the household run, should I get a regular job once I grow up? Thoughts like that,” coach Jitendra aka Jeetubhai told The Indian Express.
Looking back, the coach feels that self-doubt also created a hurdle for Krunal. But seeing his younger brother Hardik doing well in the sport, Krunal was motivated again.
“The younger brother’s success got the elder one back on track I would say. He began to think that this wasn’t an impossible dream. ‘If Hardik can do it, so can I’ thoughts helped. And he threw himself back into the game with a new vigour from U-23 age group days.”
Coach Jitendra cues up a moment around the dining table of the Pandyas during lockdown last year.
“His father was there. So were the mother and the two sons. I remember telling Krunal that ‘ I know you have played T20 for India and have been dropped. You play in the IPL but that’s not enough. Not enough for your father or for me. It was on you that your father first bet on. It was for you that I have fought many battles in Baroda cricket. This dream is not yours. It’s my dream. It’s your father’s dream. You have to play for India and help us prove many people wrong.’ Krunal promised he would play for India again. By that time, he had turned very serious about the game and had been doing well in IPL of course, but we just wanted to remind him of the bigger picture in case he settles for something less.”
The situation last year wasn’t as dire as it was in the U-23 age group when the father and coach fretted that Krunal might not make it. The coach pinpoints an exact game when it turned around.
“He got out cheaply in the first innings, a casual shot. Then another bad shot in the second innings. The captain was from my club and I had passed a message to him to tell KP that he will be dropped from the Baroda U-23 team if he continues like this. That I remember was like an end-of-the-world type of moment for Krunal. That’s when he started to take it more seriously,” Jitendra said.
The next moment of reckoning came in 2016. The ambition and temperament were spot on but the power game that could push him to the next level was missing. “His father was never pushy and left cricket matters to me but would now and then ask me, how is the future like for KP. I remember sitting KP down at this stage and telling him that his game was compact, his skill was good and it was now up to training. Physical training, on his bat swing, on strength and power game.To his credit, he put all his energy into it.”
There was some work done on “his base in his stance” before the Vijay Hazare tournament this year where he scored a couple of hundreds. “I remember telling his mother to forget the past. Just do what her husband would have done.’Go enjoy Krunal is batting now. He is at another level now.’ She went to Surat to watch him get a hundred. Krunal called up that night and said he had got really emotional and tears were in his eyes. To have his mother that day there. His father is always with him. As he said after his fifty, this one was for his zinda-dil dad.”
Sriram Veera… read more