The Prince And Pauper
The Man in the Iron Mask is a film directed by Randall Wallace inspired by punishments during the French medieval times, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which deals with an intense subject of cruelly seizing one’s identity by keeping his face locked with an iron mask. Similar has been the fate of a number of unsung heroes of Indian Cricket. The iron mask being the bench, identity being their talent, starring a number of deserving stalwarts of state cricket and the IPL and all of this in the modern times. While some like Rohit Sharma have been extremely lucky as far as the number of chances awarded are concerned, many who deserved a spot to prove their mettle remained at the bench with hopes of making it large but remained in the shadows.
Lets head back to the year 2008, when a promising young lad out performing most within the Ranji season in Bengal made his way to the team. This is none other than the current Bengal captain, Manoj Tiwari himself. It was the 3rd of February when he landed on a surprise call as a replacement hoping to seal his position in the national side when to his surprise he was asked to play a game on the very day he arrived. Bad luck had just began flirting with Tiwari’s career. To add to the intensity, it was Brett Lee on the other end. It was only fair to be nervous on the big occasion. However, nervousness saw his stumps flying across in a matter of seconds without adding to the scores. That was the end of the man’s call for the longest period. The year, 2010-2011 though started at a positive for Manoj. A call back from the Indian national side, though only on the bench was a positive for him as he now was closer to the opportunity he had previously lost out on. Though competition was tough. A certain Rohit Sharma then occupied the number 4 and 5 position favoured by many within the Mumbai camp. It was over a number of series that Manoj waited for the real opportunity. A T20 once in a while helped Manoj find himself in the middle but never gave him the space to express himself. It was in 2011 when the West Indies were touring India and then an inconsistent Rohit on account of injury left his space vacant for Manoj to fill in. It was match number 6 in Chennai at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium. India found themselves in thick soup with a quick couple of wickets creating the perfect stage for Manoj Tiwari to finally prove his worth. There couldn’t have been a better innings asked for at the moment with a blistering 104 not out in 114 balls in a game which India eventually went on to win. However, Manoj by then was already a victim of luck and this century too wasn’t big enough to save him. Rohit took his place back in the team soon after and though inconsistent initially, paved his way to be one of the most devastating openers the world has seen today.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, known as the most dynamic finisher of the game who people regard as irreplaceable is quite a subject of debate. It is undoubtedly true that MS Dhoni’s contributions to Cricket are irreplaceable; but the ability to finish has a few names lost in the history of modern day cricket. Lets head back to 2007 when a certain Robin Uthappa from Karnataka demanded his way into the national side.
Uthappa who was known for his uncanny style of fearlessly walking straight down to the pitch of the ball to the fastest of bowlers was called in to open for his national side. Quick scores of 70 and 28 in the third and fourth games against the west Indies at a strike rate of above 90 looked the perfect blend for the blue jersey. However, what was further interesting was his ability to bat anywhere in the 11 which surprisingly never changed his aggression towards the game. The Natwest series of 2007-2008 wasn’t a pleasant start for India as they were already a game down heading into the sixth game. Uthappa was a part of this team but what came as a surprise to most was the fact that he was given the role of a finisher asked to bat at number 7. The Indian top order tumbled in quick succession leaving Uthappa with almost 65 to 70 runs to chase in lesser balls and that too with the tail. Uthappa’s character towards responsibility was on display for the first time. A captivating 47 off just 33 balls ensured India’s chances in the series heading to the final game. Though a number of inconsistent performances there on lead to the fall of probably the most interesting cricketer one has known off. Uthappa though didn’t give up there. He mastered the unique art of batting anywhere in the order as per the teams requirements along with the ability to keep wickets offering himself as that extra hand of batting any team would want to have.
Uthappa today, after a series of successful games with India A, Karnataka and his recent IPL Franchise, Kolkata Knight Riders still finds himself in the avoided list of candidates. Though Uthappa seems positive for a comeback sooner than one expects, the reality lies in the bench strength that India already has making it tough to make it through. Uthappa also was the first Indian to score a half century in the T20 format that too in a saving cause in the first T20 world cup where India was struggling at 39/4 against Pakistan in South Africa. India eventually went to win that match. What makes things worst is, Uthappa’s successful T20 career which has now created an impression modelling the dynamic wicket keeper batsmen as some sort of a T20 specialist which sees him making his way to that format more often in relation to the sort of space he deserves in the longer formats.
The story of struggle has a number of unsung heroes who didn’t get their share of exposure like many others like the Rohit Sharma’s or Ravindra Jadeja’s did. Some popular names in the list include that of India’s first ever IPL centurion, Manish Pandey, talented wicket keeper batsman, Naman Ojha, another wicket keeping talent from the south, Sanju Samson, Bengal’s spearhead, Ashok Dinda amongst many more. Just as it is put in one of writer Mark Twain’s popular novel, there are the same people, with the same faces, with similar attributes but just standing on both sides of the same coin. Only one can be the prince, the other remains a pauper.