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Cricket news - Amandeep Khare - of small town and big dreams
"Harshdeep Kaur (a singer) humari favorite hai," Amandeep Khare admits while shuffling through his playlist of mushy Bollywood numbers. "She had come to Bhilai and I got a chance to meet her." Hailing from a small town in Chhattisgrah, the admission, and more of his mannerisms, are enough giveaways of his starry-eyed thoughts of what life in big cities must be like. But it's only as far as cricket is not concerned. He denies being intimidated by Mumbai on the field.
"It's not like they are going to be faster or turn the ball more," Amandeep explains. "If you take it just like a match, it's easy. If you play the name, you may struggle to give your best performance."
And, even for his soft-spoken thought-filtered words, it is with some authority that he says so. It was his century in a 300-plus run-chase, the previous time he faced Mumbai, that gave the defending champions their first jitter in the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy and almost had them crash out in the group stages. The phase when Chhattisgarh cricketers were in awe of bigger, star-studded teams have passed. In the last four years, they have evolved strongly to not only find themselves among the elite teams, but also perform well enough to find a place in the quarterfinals.
With an absence of history, comes an absence of heroes. Amandeep admits that while they may not get to mingle with legendary cricketers, they figure out their own unique ways to find inspiration.
"When legends like Sachin Tendulkar come and talk to them (Mumbai players) even for 15-20 minutes, they are bound to feel motivated. We don't get that sort of a motivation, so we have to develop that from within by looking at someone like Virat Kohli, on how he keeps going through the grind over and over again. We look at his life from a distance and assume what he does."
The closest they got to 'what it would be like to play for India' experience was when Mohammad Kaif would narrate to them stories from his playing days as an international cricketer during his stint with the state. "Woh hubaho woh Indian dressing room mein rehkar aaye hai. That was a big deal for all of us. Only those who have experienced that kind of life can share that experience with you. We think that our life has been a struggle but when you hear their stories, you know how much more they have struggled to reach that level, how difficult it is to bounce back from there, how strong you have to be mentally. You get a clue or an answer. Before that, you are always in doubt."
There is a lot that separates his cricketing life in Bhilai from what he sees in bigger cities. There are ample facilities to make life of cricketers easy in centres like Bangalore and Mumbai. Amandeep admits that it is painful to see they don't have similar facilities but he isn't bitter about it.
"Thoda khatakta hai that we don't have the kind of facilities there as they have here (in Bangalore). Here they have indoor facilities. Even when it's raining, the wickets get covered. We may not have all that luxury but we have the coaches who have taught us, the basics still haven't changed. You have to drive, pull and cut the deliveries that you have to drive, pull and cut."
He is a product of the 2016 Under-19 batch, whose development coincided with the rise of Chhattisgarh to the top of Indian domestic cricket, which allowed him to not get into a conundrum on whether to leave his state and join Madhya Pradesh, something which some of his senior players had to do in the past. He hasn't churned out records but has been a mainstay in Chhattisgarh's side since making his first-class debut, and has time and again put up performances of note.
It's still a young career, but it hasn't shot up as well as it did for some of the other members of his Under-19 batch, especially after having scored over 700 runs in his first domestic season. "There are times when complacency creeps in, and there's no room for that. It happened with me as well. When I was rising through the ranks quickly, I thought everything would be smooth, and in that at times we tend to ignore the process," he says.
"When I got selected for Duleep Trophy in my first season, I thought 'I have the limelight of Under 19, I have done well in Ranji as well, everything will be simple now'. I felt that I will adjust to this quickly and in some time get a chance to play for India. But other teams also study you and plan against you. It's not a big deal to come and perform, but if you've to be consistent here, you need to keep improving everyday on your game. You have to keep a check on yourself. Once you make mistakes, you have to remind yourself. When you fall, you realise these mistakes yourself. You don't need anyone to tell you.
"There are a lot of sources to this complacency. Overconfidence is one of them. There are times when you are satisfied by being average. But if you want to make it to the Indian team, in this system, being average will do you no good. You need to give performance, beat good teams, do well against good teams. You can't look at the opposition now. You have to perform irrespective of how big they are."
And just as he sways to what the pursuit to be perfect means in this highly competitive environment of Indian first-class cricket, it is not hard to question, 'so, when did you stop enjoying your cricket?'
"Under pressure, there are times we forget why we started playing cricket," he admits. "All we care for is our performance, get into the technicalities of how to play an inswinger, how to leave an outswinger. We forget to enjoy our game."
As for now, he stands in with a chance of doing something historic - taking Chhattisgarh to their first-ever semis. But standing in the way, again, is Mumbai. This time, slightly wounded. And again, it will be Amandeep who will be crucial to his team's fortunes. "I have a few friends in the Mumbai team. They have been nice to me so far, I don't think they will sledge me," he believes, he hopes.
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