It was sometime in 2014 that Cricket Association of Bengal had arranged for ‘Open Trials’ for its ambitious flagship project “Vision 2020". Hundreds had turned up on each day of the trials at the Eden Gardens with bowling coach Ranadeb Bose and cricket director Jaydeep Mukherjee in charge of nets.
There was an announcer who would call up aspirants’ (batter and bowlers) name on a loudspeaker and they would head towards the nets.
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“I was playing for a first division club Shibpur Institute and that season, we were fighting to save relegation. I remember it was a crucial game that but I wanted to chance my luck at the trials," Mukesh Kumar could paint a vivid imagery of that afternoon which changed a lot of things and has now culminated into his maiden India A call-up.
“I used to get paid peanuts as it wasn’t one of the rich clubs. So there would be days when I would play two to three “khep" games to supplement my income,”" said the man from Bihar’s Gopalgunj who made Kolkata his adopted home.
For the uninitiated, “khep" in Bengal means playing unauthorized private club games, mainly tennis ball tourneys where you could be paid between Rs 500 to Rs 5000 for a game.
“That day, I was determined to give that trial and see if the track of my career changed. But it could have been completely different had Rano sir (Bose) not been there," he remembered.
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“Since I was among the last few in queue, I told the guy before me that I want to relieve myself and hence just keep my place as I would be back from washroom.
“I came back after 10 minutes (from Eden centre strip to gallery washroom takes time) and suddenly there wasn’t anyone. Rano sir and Jaydeep sir were standing and I told them I have come for trials.
“They checked my name and I saw a red cross against my name as announcer called multiple times and I wasn’t there. I pleaded and Rano sir gave me an old SG Test and told me to bowl," Mukesh narrated like a pro.
“I bowled an inswinging yorker and batter lost his balance. Rano sir went to Jaydeep sir and I saw the red cross turn into red tick. That day led to this day," said the man, who has been Bengal’s most consistent red ball bowler.
While he had passion for cricket, Gopalganj in Bihar is known for sending its men to CRPF and Indian Army.
“I had appeared for CRPF exams thrice but probably cricket was my calling and I could never bring myself to believe that I needed the job.”
Mukesh completed his B. Com and his father, who was a cab driver, called him to Kolkata. He had first gone to Kalighat club but they had Ashok Dinda playing for them with a set team.
He was pretty quick compared to 2nd division quicks and often the edges off his outswinger won’t be caught by slip fielders as they found it difficult to get their hands out of pocket on chilly mornings. But once he got through trials things started looking up for him.
Once his medical tests were done, he was found to be malnourished as he didn’t have proper diet which was difficult to arrange for his dad, who had by then got three of his four daughters married.
“I was youngest of the six but we had severe financial problems. It was Rano, who spoke to then CAB secretary Sourav Ganguly, who arranged for my stay at Eden Gardens and my diet was taken care of,” he recalled those hard days as he spoke from his apartment in Dum Dum, where he has recently moved in after five good first class season.
“I had come through the ranks having played Buchi Babu and then waited for my turn. The endeavor would be to keep working hard," the 28-year-old, who has 100 first class wickets from 27 games, said.
This year, he was one among the net bowlers of Delhi Capitals but what most coaches like about him is his ability to pick up top wickets.
“With Mukesh, we know that bulk of his wickets will be from top five and not tail-enders. He has tremendous control with both new and old ball," said Bengal’s assistant coach Sourasish Lahiri.
Also the fact that he had faced lot of hard times also made him a tough cookie.
“When Bengal was having a dream season in 2019-20 where we played finals, I was struggling with my father’s failing health. I would train in the morning and tend to him at the hospital during evenings. But he passed away due to brain hemorrhage," he said.
However his father would have been proud to know that Mukesh got his fourth sister married. But he would have been the happiest to find the cricketer get a national level call up albeit a notch below senior team.
For someone who played serious cricket only after graduation (21 years), Mukesh has experienced a really sharp rise and he now hopes to share new ball with Prasidh Krishna in one of the games against New Zealand A.
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