Tanmay Agarwal was on strike. Tushar Deshpande streamed in with full of energy and breached his defense to give Mumbai the first breakthrough. Then came Akshath Reddy and Deshpande pitched it on a fuller length and got it to skid off the deck. The batsman was beaten on the pace and was trapped LBW.
The M.Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore didn’t have a large crowd to witness the first semi-final of the Vijay Hazare Trophy between Mumbai and Hyderabad. But Tushar Deshpande, the Mumbai pacer, hardly cares about who is watching him as he set on a motion of celebration - animated, fierce and but equally jubilant with the joy of dismissing a batsman.
“Wo jo wicket hai
While going for the interview, I had the image of an all fierce and always pumped up Tushar that I had seen in previous matches and was mentally ready to listen to some typical fierce talks that define the character of a pacer on the field. However, a few moments after reaching the hotel, I was sitting in front of a calm and composed, soft-spoken individual, who was telling his stories with carefully crafted words. It was a revelation.
“I have a mentor Mugdha
Deshpande's journey on the domestic cricket hasn’t been that long nor has he put up some Jalaj Saxena-
For all the glory and glamour of Bombay, a cricketer’s journey to the top has never been easy and Shivaji Park Gymkhana sees thousands of players daily travel to the Maidans through crowded local trains with big kits hanging on their shoulders. Everyone carries the dream of performing better than the best as they thrive under boundless expectations to achieve the lion-crested Mumbai jersey. For them, the struggle is real. For Deshpande, the journey from Kalyan to Dadar every day after completing school was one of those stories that tell the life in Bombay. To stand apart in the crowd, Deshpande knew that nothing less would work.
“You can’t be a Mumbai Cricketer and not work hard. While (Pravin) Amre Sir used to work with Mumbai senior team as the coach, (Padmakar) Shivalkar Sir and Sandesh Kawle Sir mostly took care of us. There was serious competition and in order to come out of that system and make it big, we couldn’t breathe easy. That is where the inspiration came from. When we used to see the likes of Dhawal (Kulkarni) or Ajit Agarkar at the top of their game, you just know the process - Go and give your best.
The years of toil in the maidan resulted in his selection for the Cooch Behar Trophy in 2015-16 where he picked up 21 wickets in four matches to stake his claim in the senior team for the Ranji Trophy. And when Shardul Thakur was selected in the Indian Test side as a replacement for Bhuvneshwar Kumar ahead of Mumbai's opening encounter against Tamil Nadu in the 2016-17 Ranji season, Deshpande suddenly found himself in the playing XI and who knew that he would turn out to be the team’s prime player on the day.
Lahli - considered to be one of the toughest pitches to bat on in the country and with the ball darting around, a pacer couldn’t have asked for a better debut. Deshpande knew that it was the best chance for him to cement his place in the team and the batsmen in front of him were Dinesh Karthik and Baba Aparajith, who had already settled down on the wicket. When TN were on 41/2, Deshpande got a ball to climb on Karthik, who induced an edge through to the wicketkeeper Aditya Tare. He went on to dismiss Jagatheesan Kousik, Aswin Christ, and Krishnamoorthy Vignesh to end with figures of 4 for 25 in his first innings of senior domestic cricket. When the stakes were high, Deshpande announced his arrival and how!
He went on to pick up three more wickets in the drawn match against Baroda and another three in one innings against Madhya Pradesh. In normal circumstances, for any other teams, this performances would have been sufficient to book a place in the team for another season. But, Deshpande was playing for Bombay and here, nothing can be taken for granted. The only way to save his place in the team was to pick wickets and he took 21 of them.
“It became easier for me because ever since my U-14 days, Shivalkar Sir has always told me, whatever level that you play, your basics don’t change at all. You have to bowl on outside the off-stump and good length area. It is the basics and coaches in the senior team also told me the same. Presence of seniors also helped in that match against Tamil Nadu and I didn’t have to worry at all,” Deshpande explained.
And two years down the line now, he is one of the mainstays in the team and in the absence of Shardul Thakur and Dhawal Kulkarni for their opening encounter against Railways in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy, he will be the pace spearhead in the largely unheralded bowling unit. It may not have been a dream run for the boy who started his career in the Subash Cricket Academy in Kalyan as a batsman, and there is a lot to be achieved, but he has surely set the base to achieve that India cap one day.
“I want to represent India in Test cricket. Nothing less. I am ready to do whatever it would take to achieve that.”
Saying this, Deshpande went out for a lunch with Dhawal Kulkarni. Assured that he would achieve the cap one day, but now he has a bigger task on his hands - bringing the Ranji Trophy back home.
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