How advice to become an auto-driver from his ‘ever-supportive’ father inspired Chirag Jani to evolve into one of India’s finest all-rounders

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After failing in 10th grade, Chirag Jani received a stern warning from his father: drive an auto if you aren't able to do anything with your career. The statement motivated him to work harder, culminating in his evolution as one of the most successful seam-bowling all-rounders in India. 

Like many budding players across India, Chirag Jani’s initial days in cricket were anything but straightforward. While his father, a policeman by profession, had always been supportive of cricket throughout his childhood, his housewife mother was completely against it.

In his school in Bhavnagar, there was a rule for students: you can only play cricket if you are in seventh grade or upwards. Jani got the taste of the sport thereon, and things were going well until his 10th-grade results came out. Chirag had failed to pass the final examination, and his mother meted out an old-fashioned scolding due to his negligence in his studies.

However, it was his supportive father’s reaction to the incident that affected Jani’s mindset more than anything else. Jani senior bought an auto, assuming that was his son’s only way out following his failure in academics. But Jani junior took that personally, and things began to get serious from there onwards.

“I was determined that I have to do something in my life so that I won’t need to drive an auto. To be fair, that triggered me a lot to motivate myself, although I knew my father’s morale support was always there,” Jani remarked in an exclusive interview with SportsCafe.

“I started focusing on cricket even more and did well for Bhavnagar’s Junior Division. I was selected for Bhavnagar’s District Team, which led me to earn a place in Saurashtra’s Under-17 squad.  From there on, I played Under-22, and Under-23 before being selected for the senior squad. After one-two years in the senior setup, I got to know I can make a career out of it if I keep improving.”

Since he was young, Jani always wanted to be an all-rounder. In fact, apart from batting and bowling, he used to keep wickets as well during his school days in Bhavnagar’s Mahuva village. Although he has huge respect for Kapil Dev, whom he regardfully calls ‘sir’, his first role model while growing up was Jacques Kallis. Chirag also used to adore Andrew Flintoff and tried to emulate him during practice sessions. Now, he admires Hardik Pandya and Ben Stokes for their continuous success with both bat and ball. 

So what next for Jani? A lucrative IPL contract, given the fact he is an out-and-out fast-bowling all-rounder who usually remains in high demand at the auctions?

Main zyada age ki nehi sochtha (I never think too far ahead of my current situation),” he replied with sheer calmness.  “I only think about how can I do better in the current series, not beyond that. If I do well consistently, something good will surely happen. Maybe somewhere down the line, I may get a pick from an IPL franchise or may get selected for India A squad. If I keep doing well, a call from them will come for sure. I believe in fate only. The selection process is not in my hands, but my performance, and how I can work on it, is.”

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In the first week of December, Jani proved his class yet again. During the first half of the final against Ruturaj Gaikwad-led Maharashtra, the all-rounder picked up a hat-trick, took a couple of catches, affected a run-out, and then followed it up with a crafty 25-ball 30 to propel Saurashtra to the Vijay Hazare Trophy for the first time. To express his regards for the man who just turned 33 last month, Saurashtra skipper Jaydev Unadkat, following the triumph, opined: “If there is one player in the side who deserves to play at the highest level, it’s Chirag Jani.”

In an illustrious domestic career that will touch the decade mark this month, Jani has experienced ample highs and lows of Saurashtra cricket. He might have been too young to have played in their historic 2012/13 Ranji Trophy final, the team’s first in 75 years, but from there on he gradually kept improving his skillset and has since been a part of all the memorable trophy hunts of his team. He played a crucial role in helping Saurashtra reach the Ranji Trophy final again in 2015/16, but much like last time, Mumbai handed them another colossal innings defeat.

But the vicious suffering did not stop Jani and Saurashtra’s core from going onwards and upwards. The former, slowly and steadily, was becoming the jack of all trades amongst his teammates as they advanced to two more domestic competition finals – the 2017/18 Vijay Hazare Trophy and the 2018/19 Ranji Trophy. Yet, they still failed to enjoy the elusive last laugh in those two summit clashes before eventually jumping past all the hurdles in the following Ranji season. And now, with recent silverware in their kitty at the highest level, coupled with the Under-25 State A Championship, Saurashtra have built a reputation for being tough fighters.

“I believe Saurashtra cricket has seen massive improvements in recent years. You can’t take us lightly anymore. You will face challenges whenever you go up against us from here on in any format,” Jani reckoned.

“We are going with almost the same 15-17 members everywhere, and it plays a key role in our success. Everyone is aware of what their role is, which yields benefits for us. Besides, our team management backs us a lot even if someone fails to make an impact for a few matches. We have been executing the plans which we made in team meetings, and that has been key for our recent rise.”

When asked about who are likely to take up the baton next as per his thoughts, Jani commented, “There are a few youngsters rising through the ranks from our Under-25 and Under-19 squads. Ansh Gosai, Jay Gohil, Tarang Gohel, and of course, Samarth Vyas can be the ones among many others who can do wonders in the next 10 years or so.”

The ongoing Ranji Trophy is Jani’s 10th domestic season in First-Class cricket since he made his debut in December 2012 against Rajasthan in Jaipur. While speaking about his roller-coaster ride, he highlighted how Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) had backed him during his tough days when he was not at his fluent best in red-ball cricket. Now, with their support, he has become one of the pillars of the side, alongside Jaydev Unadkat, Sheldon Jackson, Arpit Vasapada, and Dharmendrasinh Jadeja. 

“Side by side, I will try to improve myself every year,” he pledged to himself before signing off, proclaiming his staggering numbers across all three formats are not going to downgrade anytime soon. In fact, with his present refreshing mindset, don’t be surprised if Chirag Jani starts to reach new heights and grabs the limelight in the upcoming future.

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