“Did you see how he hit a six with a sweep shot and next ball, he chose to play it late to third man. That showed how match-aware and calculative he is,” says the coach Sanjay Rastogi, a day after his student Priyam Garg scored a match-winning 51 from 26 balls that pulled Hyderabad Sunriers out of the hole against Chennai Super Kings. The inning of high maturity that received high praise from experts could prove to be a breakthrough knock for the 19-year-old.
But nothing about Garg’s knock surprises Rastogi. The unflustered temperament that soaked up the pressure that must have escalated after Kane Williamson’s annoying cry of ‘C’mon boy!’ at a mix-up, the impeccable shot-selection or the awareness to manoeuvre the field.
Rastogi turns indulgent and veers the talk to multiplication tables. In an endearing Indian way, where reciting multiplication tables is considered a hallmark of a kid’s intelligence, Rastogi talks up Garg’s skills. Even here, though, Garg genuinely stands out. “You can ask him any table, he will tell you in one flow. Once during under-15 selection, a selector (who was told of Garg’s skills) asked him to recite the table of 38 and 67, and Garg answered it correctly. The selector put two tick marks beside his name – one for his batting and other for his education,” Rastogi recalls. “Not many cricketers are educated but Priyam is good at studies too.”
On Friday, Garg added 77 runs in seven overs with his friend Abhishek Sharma to enable Sunrisers Hyderabad recover from the depths of 69 for 4 to the matchwinning 164. Rastogi says he has witnessed many such games where Garg has overcome obstacles. “He is just 19 but he has the mindset of someone in his 50’s. He is very matured.” Rastogi points out Garg’s ability to focus as the key strength. “His focus is tremendous; he is a natural player. He has extra time to play his shots as compared to the others.”
Garg trained at his village Quila Prikshitgarh, 20 kilometres from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh during the lockdown. Not just Garg but players like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the leg-spinner Karn Sharma too would drop in at the practice sessions conducted by Rastogi. “Luckily the administration wasn’t that strict here, so we managed to play practice games in Victoria Park. We did match simulation and if any player could not reach the set target, he had to buy everyone a glass of juice!” Rastogi says.
Garg remembers the days when his father used to sell milk from door to door during the day and slip a Rs 10 note to him at night so that he could travel to Meerut for cricket nets. Then, there were days when money was tight and Garg would travel on the roof of buses to pursue his dream. During those lonely journeys, the budding batsman would wonder whether he would ever make enough money to help his father.
“My father did most of the hard work, he did all the odd jobs that you can imagine… selling milk, driving school vans, loading goods, he ensured that I got a good life. He went through all that just to see me become a cricketer one day. He took me to Meerut and made sure that I got into a decent academy,” Garg had said in an interaction before last year’s U-19 World Cup where he captained India.
At the age of 15, Garg used to bat against bowlers like Praveen Kumar and Bhuvneshwar, who were playing for India. It was in those sessions that he really impressed the coach with his maturity, game-awareness and courage like standing well outside the crease to negotiate the swing of Bhuvneshwar. Now Rastogi awaits the day when Garg breaks the jinx of Meerut by becoming the first batsman from the city to play for India.