Navdeep Saini has come a long way from playing on gurudwara premises to becoming one of the most promising fast bowlers of the country.
“He was five, when he came to me and asked for a ball. I asked him if he did not want a bat? He said no. So, I bought a ball,” said Amarjeet Saini, a Haryana government driver who was not much enthused about his son playing cricket. The love affair started at Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib at Taraori village in Karnal.
Navdeep, along with his elder brother (Mandeep), used to play cricket on its premises during family’s weekly Sunday visits.
“Once when he was in Class VIII, his school was taking students to Shimla for a summer camp. He asked for some money, and I gave it to him. When I returned home after work, he was at home. I asked him you were supposed to go to Shimla, what are you doing here. The reply was ‘Papa Kal ek match hai wo khelna hai,”.
It was not the first time his father was miffed with him. With growing age, Navdeep became a ghost for his family.
“Dasvi ke baad toh banjara ho gaya. (He became a nomad after Class X). Someday, he was playing in Karnal, the other day in Ambala or Yamunanagar. He also used to go to Ropar and Patiala to play cricket. He became addicted to the game,” said the 61-year-old.
“I used to be very angry with him. He has received a lot of scolding from me, but he never cared. I was a driver, and my salary was not that good. As a father, I just wanted him to study so that he can have a good future,” he added.
One fine day, Navdeep came home with a giant poster of Zaheer Khan and pasted it on his room’s wall. When I asked him, he replied: “ Zaheer Khan mera favourite hai aur mujhe unke jaisa bowler banana hai (Zaheer Khan is my favourite, and I want to become like him).”
Navdeep moved to Delhi from Karnal after he impressed Sumit Narwal (former Delhi pacer) in a local tournament.
“One day, Navdeep came home, packed his bag, and told his mother he was going to Delhi. We asked him where you will stay, what will you eat. His reply was “ whaan ja ke dekhunga (Will see after going there).”
“He never looked back after that. He made his Ranji debut for Delhi. He never shared anything with us, and we only came to know about all this through newspapers. Our family is indebted to Gautam Gambhir (former Delhi captain) for everything he has done for my son. My son’s hard work has paid off; he has changed our lives also,” said Amarjeet.
“Now, when I look back, I am glad that I gifted him that plastic ball,” he signed off.