OF ALL the fascinating paths to an IPL team, Ramesh Kumar’s story is a perfect fairytale for the social media age.
His father repairs footwear, his mother is a bangle seller. And the 23-year-old was happy with the meagre prize money and small-time buzz of tennis-ball cricket in Punjab when he suddenly went viral on YouTube. The clip of him in action stirred an IPL cricketer who shared it with his coach — and in a blink, Ramesh’s life changed.
Today, Ramesh, aka “Narine Jalalabadiya”, finds himself in Kolkata Knight Riders, picked for Rs 20 lakh at the IPL auction on Sunday. Just the climax awaits: a six off the final ball or a Super Over in which he bowls six different deliveries to win the Cup for his team.
While “Narine” refers to West Indian mystery spinner and T20 star Sunil Narine for the skill to conjure up different balls with the same action, the “Jalalabadiya” tag in his Internet moniker tells not only his story but also that of his father’s migrant dreams.
Twenty-five years ago, Mangu Ram left his hometown of Hanumangarh in Rajasthan in search of work and a better life for his family, and eventually settled down in Jalalabad in Punjab’s Fazilka district. Now his son will be rubbing shoulders with T20 legends in the world’s biggest cricket league.
“I grew up watching the IPL and used to mimic Sunil Narine. I used to play tennis-ball tournaments in Punjab, and my bowling action and batting style became viral. One day (in March-April last year), someone posted a video of me with the caption ‘Narine Jalalabadiya,’ and it got stuck,” Ramesh told The Indian Express.
“Honestly, I don’t know what kind of bowler I am, but I can bowl six different deliveries with the same action. This is why I get so many wickets,” he said.
Ramesh could have remained a minor star on the tennis-ball circuit if not for KKR and Punjab player Gurkeerat Mann. Last year, impressed by a video that reached his phone, Mann shared it with KKR assistant coach and former Mumbai player Abhishek Nayar.
The two were impressed but not sure if the boy in the video could be an effective hard-ball spinner. Mann called Ramesh to the PCA stadium in Mohali during Punjab’s senior team camp. To his pleasant surprise, the boy from Jalalabad could replicate his tennis-ball prowess. More bowling videos were shot — this time by Mann himself — and forwarded to Nayar’s phone.
A few days later, Ramesh got a call from an unknown number. “I thought it was a random call for a personal loan from some bank, and why on earth would Abhishek Nayar call me! I got convinced only when Mann paaji told me that it was a call from Abhishek Nayar,” he said.
Ramesh’s world was changing.
Mann helped the budding spinner with spikes, kits and even had him sign up with Minerva Punjab Cricket Academy. Ramesh represented Minerva in Punjab’s famous JP Atray Cricket Tournament and bagged 12 wickets in three matches.
He was then selected for the district team, but since Fazilka plays in a minor division in Punjab’s local league, Mann helped him to move to Kapurthala. Playing for Kapurthala in the Katoch Shield, Punjab’s inter-district tournament, Ramesh twinkled out 12 wickets in four matches.
“I owe my life to Mann paaji. He has done so much for me. He has been a rock for me over the past year. If not for him, I would have been playing tennis cricket only. He has helped me financially…he shot my videos on his phone and always encourages me,” he said.
Once he nailed the transition to a cricket ball, Nayar stepped in and called Ramesh to Mumbai for the KKR trials. Last month, as he took his seat on the plane to Mumbai, his first flight, anxiety gripped him. “I started chanting God’s name, and was desperate for the plane to land somehow,” he said.
With the nerves still jangling, “it took five minutes for me to open the door to my hotel room”. The next day, he went for trials and did whatever Nayar asked him to do before taking the flight back.
“Abhishek sir told me to keep working hard. With the help of Mann paaji, I put my name in the auction this time; I had no clue that I would be picked. It was a surprise for me when KKR went for me,” he said.
KKR, meanwhile, is not keen to hype their new signing, but the word from their camp is Ramesh has potential although a lot of work needs to be put in before he is ready for the big league.
Their new pick dreams of representing Punjab and playing for India one day, but knows there’s a long and tough road ahead. “Cricket is not my passion. It is my occupation. I have been playing cricket since I was 16. My father didn’t like me playing cricket all the time, he wanted me to study. But the player of the match award in tennis ball tournaments used to have cash awards and my focus was always to earn that,” he said.
So how will he spend his IPL money? “My mother sells bangles in the villages of Jalalabad. I will open a shop for her, and save the rest for the education of my two younger brothers.”