Sudeep Tyagi calling it a day from all formats of cricket, in all honesty, could have missed the headlines. After all, the Indian team’s practise is in full swing in Australia, one of the best seasons of the IPL was just over and the attention span was shorter than ever. For me, however, it wasn’t.
It was 2007 - a normal winter day in Cuttack. I was just done with my half-yearly examination in Standard 8 and Cricket was supposed to take over. Very early in my life I had developed an interest in local club cricket matches and being there was the ultimate bliss. So when a Ranji Trophy match was happening just a kilometer away from my home, could I have really stayed calm?
Odisha vs Uttar Pradesh it was and the presence of many boyhood heroes from the local club circuit kept me elated. Mohammed Kaif and Suresh Raina's appearance for the UP was the cherry on the cake. When Rashmi Ranjan Parida strode to the ground with Shiv Sundar Das for company - two of the batting fulcrums of the side - I had my hopes high. They knew Barabati like anyone in the country and I had little to doubt skipper Pravanjan Mullick’s decision to bat first. However, minutes from that moment, what I witnessed left me devastated to the core so much so that I didn’t return to the ground after the tea break.
A disclaimer ahead. I watched hundreds of domestic matches from the ground as a kid - the memory of which might be missed in detail. But this game had given me a sense that Uttar Pradesh could be a real domestic giant if they would stick to the very basic foundation they had created for themselves. Mohammed Kaif and Suresh Raina were the yardsticks and the emergence of the likes of Piyush Chawla, Tanmay Srivastava, and Ravikant Shukla from the thriving U19 structure made UP a force to be reckoned with. Even losing Salabh Srivastava to the Indian Cricket League didn't matter much to them.
I might not have known all these details then but what I knew by the time the tea was taken that I was watching a to-be-behemoth in action. Sudeep Tyagi made an exhibition of pace bowling to topple the giants in such a magnificent manner that it left the likes of Mullick, Parida, and Das embarrassed. Cutters came off well, each ball was celebrated like it was the closing moments of a high-octane Test match and the Odisha batting line-up fell off like a pack of cards. The debutant hustled like no tomorrow and accounted for six of them.
Adding insult to the injury, Suresh Raina piled on a gigantic double century, blowing Debashish Mohanty and Preetamjit Das to smithereens. By the time Odisha lost their 10 wickets for a mere 222 runs, losing the game by an innings and 10 runs, Tyagi had made enough inroads to have a guard of honour. The tall, lean, and reticent kid-looking fast bowler was hugged by everyone. A star was born right there.
From that moment on, Tyagi was always on the back of my newspaper - be it for his exploits for UP in the title-clinching run or wrecking havoc in the Emerging Players Tournament in Australia where he was the leading wicket-taker or that spell of 3/20 in the 2009 Challengers Trophy final. He was a rising star you would never have enough of.
In between came the chance to don the CSK yellow and the presence of MS Dhoni meant I was all backing the team from South. In South Africa, CSK found an able match-winner and young skipper found a confidante to get the ball rolling. From Wilkin Mota to Shadab Jakati, Dhoni had young players galore yet Tyagi quickly slipped under the radar to become a silent figure of their success.
By the time an Indian call-up came up in 2009, my hopes were high again. I was still backing Odisha but here is the matter of India and I was “bleeding blue”. Tyagi got me there and I was telling my friends that this is the guy I watched live when he played his first senior representative match for his state. Of course, it was childish but would I trade that feeling for any materialistic pleasure today? I have really come a long way.
Sudeep Tyagi’s retirement yesterday might not be a significant story in the current climate, he is forgotten and might possibly never hog headlines again, but to me, he will remain a link to my childhood and to a match that changed my perspective towards Uttar Pradesh Cricket. A lingering aftertaste but it is possibly the right time to tell you, Sudeep, you mattered to me and always will.
Thank you very much for that.