After Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke guided Australia to a total of 324, Australia would hardly have expected any resistance from the Kenyan outfit. But as it did, the minnows gave a good account of themselves in Bangalore in the 2011 World Cup, with a certain Indian name dominating proceedings.
Australia were undefeated in 32 World Cup matches until that point, and in a game between a flyweight and a heavyweight, the result was a no brainer. But by putting on a show, en route 264/6, as Collins Obuya and Tanmay Mishra struck half-centuries, Kenya were saved from embarrassment. Eight years on now, the duo are still playing cricket; Obuya was recently taking on Tier 2 bowlers in the T20 World Cup qualifiers with the same ferocity as he did in Bangalore that night while Mishra in his home country was piling runs for Tripura.
When Kenya cricket started moving on a downward spiral after the highs of the 2003 World Cup, which saw them enter the semi-final, the selectors had to rebuild the side from scratch. They had to replace several big names like Asif Karim, who they had brought into the squad out of retirement, and Maurice Odumbe when Mishra emerged as one of the young faces around whom Kenya were supposed to build the team.
Mishra, who moved to Nairobi where his parents had their business, held an Indian passport, and Kenya was more than happy having him in the squad. Mishra brought in a breath of fresh air with his confident and aggressive batting but he had the understanding that it was not going to earn him bread.
“We were disheartened that we didn’t get Test status after 2003 but there was a lot of fighting going on,” Mishra told SportsCafe in an exclusive interview.
So he returned to India to complete his University studies. “I was still young and did not know anything, it was years later, everything came out. Let’s be honest, there was never really a future in Kenya. We don’t get paid like players are paid in Indian cricket or even Australia and England.”
“After 2007, my dad said there is a decent family business so what do you want to do? I was like, why not study. Kenya cricket was doing well and it wasn’t easy to go back and make my way into the World Cup squad. I still had to grind because part of the management was still upset because they had invested a lot of time in me. They had sent me to a high-performance centre in Pretoria, South Africa.
“But when I sat down with them one on one and at that time, a senior official was very supportive of me. I explained that Nairobi is an expensive city and you being a lawyer have a second layer of defence. So how can you expect us, players, to not have that so he just smiled and said continue working hard and the rest will take care of itself.”
After having established himself, albeit among the second tier teams and moreover, representing Kenya in two World Cups, it was not easy for Mishra to return to his birthplace to take his career forward. He knew that he had to start from scratch and put in the hard yards once again, but he never got fazed under pressure. Having represented Deccan Chargers and Royal Challengers Bangalore in the past as an “Indian” local also added to his confidence that he would be able to get a team in Indian domestic cricket.
“I was applying my CV and been wanting to play domestic cricket for a while now. Good people in Tripura put faith in me so that's it. It’s not just this season, actually in the last three-four seasons and even when I was playing club cricket in Mumbai, I used to try to go and play selection matches. I used to pass my CVs so that I could get a domestic look into.”
“I had got decent recognition in India when I played the 2011 WC. I was selected for Deccan Chargers and after that, I was told I would be brought back for the 2013 season. But Sunrisers came on board and the whole thing changed. In 2014, I got a look into the RCB team and after that, I should I have knowingly decided to play outside.”
While the fame in the IPL was a big one that he still cherishes, Mishra ranks playing the 2011 World Cup at home among the best times that he had in his career. He was piling runs for Kenya in front of his home audience, but nothing beats the happiness of scoring those runs in front of his parents at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. He cherishes the memories of the Garden City and doesn’t forget to inquire about Bangalore weather.
“That was the most fruitful phase of my life. Bangalore was very special to me. Even in the Afro-Asia Cup, I was the T20 captain at that time and under me, Morne Morkel had made his international debut. Most of my beautiful moments have come in at Bangalore and Chinnaswamy. A few years later the best night of my life came in Bangalore where I played against Australia so after that night, a lot of things have changed. Mine and my parents’ phones didn’t stop ringing for the next two-three days.”
That was a rapid stride that Mishra had taken in his career, but he was clueless about the proper channel one has to take to understand the dynamics of cricket in India. That very reason delayed the eventual decision to make a living out of playing domestic cricket in India, which only came to fruition in the 2018-19 season of Vijay Hazare Trophy.
“I didn’t have people to communicate that I am available to play as a professional. I was still new to how the Indian circuit worked and by the time I realized that in 2015-16 season, I tried to put myself out there going to play in cities and nothing in life or even cricket is easy. Yes, it hurts that once you have played the highest form of cricket, you have to start all over again but then at the end of the day, everyone has to put in a shift and everyone has to work hard.
“I am happy that I have been given an opportunity by Tripura Cricket Association and I try contributing any way possible. It started in 2017 when I came to play the selection matches in Tripura where I scored 1100 runs in 17 matches. I was disappointed when I was not selected for the 2017-18 season. But then I kept working hard and then by the grace of God, it’s been wonderful so far.”
Sometimes, talking to professional players can be filled with cliched quotes but Mishra is an exception. He has been there, done that, and now that he is back in India and his only responsibility, he feels, is to score truck-load of runs to get noticed.
“When you crave something for so long, then you just go there and enjoy yourself. I want to let people decide for themselves how much I craved for this and there is always a bit of hunger. I want to do well not only for myself but my team as well as when we win matches people are gonna talk about it.
“The only reason you called me is that you have seen Tripura doing well, otherwise it would be someone else. So the goal is to make the team win and I have always believed that if your team wins, the attention will go on to the people who are doing well. I have been hungry for so long and now when I leave this stage, I should know that I have done justice to my talent. Because you can ask my wife or parents, I used to crib of not getting chances. So I don’t want to regret 2-3 years down the line of not doing this day justice. I want to leave everything on the ground - the runs and the non-runs - and I want to make sure I'm doing everything which is in my hands and the team wins.”
This is a brilliant inversion of the myth that professional cricketers past their so-called age-limit think of anything other than securing a good chunk of money for the latter stages of life. Mishra has been there and done that, and the only focus, as is evident and I could attest, is to prove his worth. Till the day he hasn’t achieved that, you might not see him resting.