U-19 World Cup: Boxer’s son Nishant Sindhu with a deadly left

Growing up, Sunil Kumar had just one dream: wearing the Indian jersey. The circumstances forced the then 19-year-old budding boxer to quit the sport. Now, 20 years later, he is finally living his dream through his son Nishant Sindhu, who is representing India at the ICC Men’s U-19 World Cup.

The 17-year-old Sindhu has played a pivotal role in India’s run in the ongoing tournament. The talented all-rounder from Haryana has picked up six wickets and has scored 90 runs in four matches so far. Sindhu, along with his fellow left-arm spinner Vicky Ostwal, has shared 18 wickets in the tournament and has given India an edge against the teams in the tournament. The duo has successfully choked oppositions run flow in the middle overs.

Ostwal and Sindhu are different bowlers. One is quick through the air, while the other looks for more spin, but both are equally effective on the slow Caribbean wickets. They dried up runs from both ends, forced the batters to play shots, and are rewarded with a bagful of wickets.

“It gives me so much joy to watch him play for India. My dream was always to don the Indian jersey, which unfortunately I never did,” Sunil Kumar tells Indian Express over the phone.

Kumar, 39, was a state-level boxer for Haryana, but the lack of support from the family forced him to hang his boxing gloves.

“I was in 54kg weight category but never got that backing from my family. My father was a government employee. For him, academics was everything. My mother supported me a lot but unfortunately, she passed away when I was 19. There was responsibility, I had two younger sisters, so I started working,” recalls Kumar.

Kumar, who never had any interest in cricket, was surprised when he saw his three-year-old son jumping in joy when India, under MS Dhoni, won the T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007. The following day, he gifted him a plastic bat, which was when he discovered another facet about his son.

“I gave him the bat, and his stance was left-handed. I threw the ball toward him and he picked up with his left hand. Then I came to know why he is a southpaw,” laughs Kumar.

Kumar always wanted his son to follow in his footstep, but Sindhu never showed any interest in boxing. In 2011, the day after India won the ODI World Cup, he hesitantly told his father that he wanted to play cricket.

“I always wanted him to be a sportsperson, be it cricket or boxing. I decided that I would never let anything come between him and his dream. He wanted to play cricket, and I decided to back him with my last penny,” says Kumar.

Kumar enrolled Nishant into Shri Ram Narain Cricket Academy, run by a former Haryana first-class cricketer and coach, Ashwani Kumar.

Sant Rathee, a coach at the academy, recalls how he was shocked after watching Sindhu bowls for the first time. “I saw an 8-year-old kid with a natural loop. It was so natural. The batting was equally good, the hand-eye coordination, the drives, everything was so perfect,” recounts Rathee.

Nishant Sindhu is representing India at the ICC Men’s U-19 World Cup.

Sindhu came to the limelight when he scored 290 runs and bagged 24 wickets for Haryana in the U-14 Dhruv Pandove Trophy held in Patiala in 2017. He was immediately fast-tracked into the Haryana U-16 team, and in the 2017-18 Vijay Merchant Trophy, he scored 280 runs and took 16 wickets.

He saved his best for the 2018-19 Vijay Merchant Trophy, where Sindhu amassed 572 runs and bagged 23 wickets. It was under his captaincy that Haryana defeated Jharkhand in the final to lift the tile. The Vijay Merchant Trophy success helped him get a call-up from the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru.

When he returned from the camp in March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic raged on, and Sindhu, like hundreds of young aspiring cricketers in India, was left disappointed.

Kumar again came to his son’s rescue. He made a makeshift gym on his terrace and requested his friend, Anand Mayana, a fitness trainer, to spare some time for his son.

“For any athlete, fitness should be the top priority. I have learned it from my experience. Anand used to visit us twice a day, and he will look after his fitness routine. There was not much space for him to bowl; we used to do shadow practicing and throwdowns with the wet tennis balls. I managed whatever I could,” recalls Sunil.

Two years later, Sindhu marshalled his troops to the U-19 Vinoo Mankad Trophy triumph. Haryana defeated Maharashtra by six wickets in the finals to cap off a campaign where the team didn’t lose a single game. Sindhu scored 299 runs and took 12 wickets for Haryana in the tournament.

His success was rewarded when he was selected for the India U-19 squad for the Asia Cup and U-19 World Cup. What surprised everyone was that he was not being nominated as the team’s skipper. But he went on to captain India in two games against Ireland and Uganda following a Covid-19 outbreak in the Indian camp. With captain Yash Dhull and vice-captain Shaik Rasheed both in isolation, VVS Laxman and Co. passed the captaincy badge to Sindhu.

Unfortunately, the Haryana youngster also tested positive and had to miss the quarter-final clash against Bangladesh.

“He has always been a leader. He has great awareness of the game, and when Yash and Rasheed were tested positive, I knew Nishant would be the leader. He is not even 17 and has won two prestigious tournaments,” says Kumar, who has also trained India women’s team opener, Shafali Verma.

Pankaj Thakur, Haryana U-19 coach, too, rates Sindhu highly. He decodes how the youngster has evolved as a cricketer over time.

“He is a complete package. A solid middle-order batter, a brilliant bowler and a gun outfield fielder. The greatest attribute of his game is his eagerness to improve,” says Thakur, who has played 57 first-class matches for Haryana. “What has impressed me the most is his bowling. He always tries to play with the batter’s mind. He loves setting up batters; he might get hit in the process, but he will never lose heart. He loves to flight the ball and will always look for the rough patches created by the fast bowlers.”

He adds: “In his U-16 days, he didn’t have that arm ball. He learned this craft over a period of time. I think being a spinner, he was used to bowl 30-35 overs in a day, and it gave time to add arm ball into his armoury.”

Thakur loved how his ward cleaned up Australia’s Nivethan Radhakrishnan in the semifinal. “The same ball in the last over, he was hit for a boundary. This time he bowled it slow in the air; it spun, took the inside edge ricochets onto the stumps. His celebration will tell you that he was setting him up from the last over,” says Thakur.

Back in Rohtak, Nihsant’s mother Vandana is busy cooking Ghewar (a traditional sweet), her son’s favourite. “For the past five years, due to his fitness regime and diet, I have never allowed him to eat it. Win or lose, he will have his favourite dish served when he returns,” says Kumar.

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