Who doesn’t love a rags-to-riches story? Indian movies have a fair share of them. Cricket too. The Indian Premier League transformed the lives of numerous cricketers teetering on the brink of poverty and staring at bleak futures. But these were exceptionally gifted players. They landed lucrative IPL contracts, which enabled them to keep their families away from hunger and build roofs over their heads.
Yashasvi Jaiswal’s struggles as an impoverished youngster have been well documented, and T. Natarajan’s elevation to the India squad threw the spotlight on the days when he bowled without proper shoes. Mohammed Siraj’s success with Hyderabad, Royal Challengers Bangalore and India has been cited as an example of how talent can trump adversity.
All cricket-loving Keralites know the story of K.M. Asif, who failed to pursue his Gulf dreams and ended up at the Chennai Super Kings. Little known is Ravindra Jadeja’s early struggles to achieve financial stability.
Let’s look at how these cricketers employed their talents and used the IPL to escape poverty and bring smiles to the faces of their families.
Ravindra Jadeja: A flight from financial turbulence
He’s Sir Ravindra Jadeja to the Indian team. The title was conferred by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a former India captain, in recognition of Jaddu’s allround skills. A radiant smile masks his turbulent times as a youngster, who went on to bowl tight spells and lash quick runs for India and the Chennai Super Kings.
Jadeja’s early days in Navagam-Khed, Saurashtra, were traumatic. After losing his mother, a distraught Jadeja wanted to give up cricket and follow his father’s advice to join the army. A watchman at a security firm, Jadeja’s father didn’t recognise his son’s talent, but coach Mahendra Singh Chauhan did. Chauhan nurtured the youngster’s talent, and Jadeja became the vice-captain of the Indian team, which won the Under-19 World Cup in 2008. Rewards followed, and his financial troubles eased. More recognition followed.
The IPL scouts swooped down on him. A stint with the Rajasthan Royals in 2008 was followed by a contract with the Kochi Tuskers Kerala and the Gujarat Lions. By then, he had a foot in the Indian team, and Dhoni was taken in by Jadeja’s passion and skill. He was a good fit for the Chennai Super Kings.
A certainty in the Indian team, Jadeja has become a vital part of CSK. The IPL riches changed his life, which is why always he flashes a winning smile.
Yashasvi Jaiswal: The prodigy who sold paani puris
His life fits the rags-to-riches mould perfectly. That’s why Yashavi Jaiswal’s rise from penury to the IPL squad of the Rajasthan Royals has been told over and over again. The media loves it. Another retelling wouldn’t diminish the story of triumph wrought against tremendous odds.
Born in Bhadohi, Uttar Pradesh, Jaiswal moved to Mumbai to nurture his cricketing skills. Life in a big city wasn’t easy as the 11-year-old found it difficult to find lodging. So he slept in a tent without electricity and water. He played cricket in the mornings and sold paani puris (an Indian savoury snack) in the evenings to eke out a living.
The stress of making ends meet didn’t affect his game as he continued to rack up tall scores. A triple century in the 2015 Giles Shield (for schools) was followed by a string of good scores fetched the teenager a place in the Mumbai squad. Three centuries, including a 154-ball 203, announced his prodigious talent, which found further expression in the 2020 Under-19 World Cup.
With plenty of runs behind him, the 18-year-old landed an IPL contract with the Rajasthan Royals in 2020. A paycheque of Rs 24 million ($338,000) ensured that Jaiswal’s dark days of frugal living is only a memory.
Thangarasu Natarajan: The yorker king from Salem
As the new yorker king of IPL, T. Natarajan has taken over the mantle from Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga. The shoes may be too big to fill, but in 2020 Natarajan showed us that he’d got the skill to do it. The Sunrisers Hyderabad would vouch for that.
So sensational has been his accuracy with yorkers in the IPL last year that Natarajan boarded the flight to Australia as the Indian team’s net bowler. Injuries to key players helped Natarajan make his debut in Twenty20 Internationals, One-Day Internationals and Tests. That was far beyond Natarajan’s wildest dreams, but he didn’t disappoint. Even in Tests, he held his own. The third One-Day International against England last month was another occasion that underlined his ability to bowl accurately in a high-pressure situation. Indian skipper Virat Kohli was indeed pleased.
That wouldn’t have materialised if it was not for the IPL.
Natarajan is the eldest of five children of a father who works for daily wages and a mother who runs a street stall in Chinnappampatti near Salem in Tamil Nadu. Young Natarajan would have been forced to do odd jobs to supplement the family income. After all, he was no precocious kid. The only cricket he had played was the tennis ball variety.
A move to Chennai changed his life. His left-arm deliveries packed more punch with some formal training, and Natarajan soon began making waves in the Tamil Nadu Premier League. A Ranji Trophy debut and T20 appearances helped generate interest from IPL clubs. The Rajasthan Royals signed him for Rs30 million ($470,000) in 2017, and he moved to the Sunrisers Hyderabad the following year. Under David Warner’s captaincy, Natarajan became the slog-over expert.
An India player now, he doesn’t have to look for odd jobs. The IPL pay has made him a millionaire.
Mohammed Siraj: An IPL record holder from Hyderabad
He’s a record-holder in the IPL. Mohammed Siraj is the only bowler to send down two maidens in a match. That was against the Kolkata Knight Riders last year. Siraj’s sensational spell helped revive Royal Challengers Bangalore’s flagging fortunes in Season 13. Not just that, the spell also brought him to the attention of Indian selectors. And soon, he was playing for India in Australia.
Siraj too is another IPL fairytale. A tale that starts with his father, who drives an autorickshaw in Hyderabad, Telangana. A product of tennis ball cricket, Siraj was a sensation in schools and his neighbourhood near Banjara Hills.
He took up serious cricket only in 2015 and was soon playing for Hyderabad and the Rest of India. A tryst with IPL followed two years later when the Sunrisers Hyderabad snapped him up for Rs26 million at age 22. The Royal Challengers Bangalore bought him next year. And 2020 turned out to be a bumper year for him. Not only did he play a vital role in the Bangalore campaign in the UAE, but he was also selected to play for India.
His India success should persuade him to strive for more consistency to hold a regular slot in the Bangalore playing XI. Siraj can now focus on that since his financial struggles are over. He has a new house, and his living standards too have soared. The IPL contract takes care of that.
K.M. Asif: From Gulf dreams to Chennai
Who’s Asif? You could ask. That would mean you are not a Keralite. All cricket enthusiasts from Kerala would know Asif. He’s been a regular in the state side, but he hasn’t been able to break into the Chennai Super Kings’ team. He’s got only a handful of appearances to show.
But Asif isn’t complaining. Simply because the IPL offered him an escape from poverty. And Asif loved cricket. He loved it so much that he twice gave up jobs in the Gulf to pursue cricket.
Giving up his job in Dubai as a storekeeper in a bottling plant was a huge gamble. Because his family needed money, and he was the sole breadwinner in the family, which lived under a leaky roof. His father was a labourer, and his mother a homemaker. His brother is mentally challenged, and his sister’s brain tumour required surgery.
Asif needed a job badly. But he went back to playing cricket and made the Kerala team. Former India leg-spinner L. Sivaramakrishnan watched him perform in a Mushtaq Ali Trophy match and referred him to the Chennai Super Kings. That’s how he landed a Rs4 million contract.
His IPL record may not be sterling, but he’s got the money. Cricket continues to be Asif’s passion. It brought him the money to rebuild his life. And his family has a new home.
Cricket took him to Dubai a third time, last year. Not as a jobseeker, but to do a job for Chennai. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to play. He may not play this season too unless one of the frontline pacemen is unavailable.
But Asif isn’t disheartened. He’s prepared to wait for his chance. After all, CSK and IPL changed his life for the better.
Other life-changing experiences
The rise of Pandya brothers, Hardik and Krunal, doesn’t classify as a rags-to-riches tale. But it’s still a triumph for them. Their father ran a small car finance business, and Hardik dropped out of school. But the boys from Baroda caught the attention of Mumbai Indians’ talent scout. First, Hardik and later Krunal landed lucrative IPL contracts, and their exploits fetched them the India colours.
You may not have heard of Nathu Singh, but he’s grateful to cricket and IPL for bringing financial stability to his family. Son of a labourer, who struggled to feed his family, Singh’s brilliant debut season with Rajasthan helped secure a Rs32 million contract with the Mumbai Indians. He couldn’t make a mark in the IPL, but he’s thankful for all the money. Life hasn’t been the same since.
Rinku Singh is another cricketer who hasn’t made waves in the IPL. He’s been with the Kolkata Knight Riders for three seasons, and the money certainly helped his family. His father delivers LPG cylinders, and Singh’s brothers drive autorickshaws to put food on the table. The Uttar Pradesh batsman has had an erratic spell in cricket, but a Rs8 million contract from KKR saved him from choosing a job as a sweeper. The Aligarh boy is indeed another IPL beneficiary.
There are many more heartwarming stories from the IPL. It certainly upgraded the lives of many domestic cricketers in India.