For most of his teenage years, a tree trunk at the Howrah Union Cricket Club ground in Kolkata was Pappu Roy’s definition of home. He lived on a breakfast of lebu cha (lemon tea) – it was all he could afford with little or no pocket money – and the lunches and evening snacks he would be treated to by club trainees or coaches in exchange for three hours of net bowling.
Now, at 23, Pappu will enjoy his first taste of five-star comforts in New Delhi. There is also the huge incentive of bowling to India’s emerging crop of batsmen in the Deodhar Trophy, where he is part of an India C squad that has star players such as Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina in the mix.
It is easy to wonder how Pappu finds himself amid a galaxy of India hopefuls in a tournament tweaked to ensure the best talent auditions for the World Cup, but one look at his numbers suggest how he has earned his place. Pappu’s left-arm spin brought him 14 wickets at an average of 18.42 and an economy rate of just 3.79. These numbers stand out, even more, when you consider that his side, Odisha, managed only two wins in eight matches.
“For every hour I bowled at Howrah Union, the coaches offered me a free thali or juice, that used to satisfy my hunger,” Pappu tells ESPNcricinfo. “Till I was 18, this was my life. Be there from morning to night, keep bowling and earn my meals. This was like work for me. My parents passed away early, there were some family issues (a dispute between his father’s siblings over a plot of ancestral land), so I preferred to be outside, doing what I enjoyed doing.”
In 2011, Pappu left for Jajpur, a small town in Odisha, to further his cricket interests, with opportunities in Bengal few and far between. He stayed as a paying guest with a Khan Saab – his friend Amin Iqbal’s father – who has provided for his comforts over the last five years to help shape his cricket dreams. It was in Jajpur that Pappu made the grade as a district player, which eventually paved the way for his Odisha selection.
He would train in the morning, play matches in the afternoon, and have fun to play tennis-ball cricket at night. Running 30 minutes to and from the ground with his kitbag was his version of gym work as well as his daily warm-up.
A shoulder niggle made his Howrah Union coach Sujit Saha – whom he is still in touch with – suggest he switch from left-arm pace to left-arm spin, and he did so reluctantly at first. Divine intervention, of sorts, convinced him to make the change permanent.
“Sachin Tendulkar sir was playing his farewell series,” Pappu says. “Two days before the first Test, Howrah Union bowlers were called in as net bowlers. I was in Jajpur but took an overnight bus to reach Kolkata. When I landed up at Eden Gardens, I stood in the spinners queue by mistake. I was told later that the fast-bowling slots had been filled up, and I was the only one in my set who could bowl left-arm spin. I thought, ‘agar bhagwaan ko left-arm spin hi daalna hai, yehi kar denge hum age (If I have to bowl left-arm spin to god, let me keep doing this going forward too.’)”
He kept taking bucketfuls of wickets thereafter, season after season, with his left-arm spin, and selection for Odisha’s Under-23s came in 2015. After three years on the fringes of the senior team, he finally got his opportunity last month in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and on his List A debut he dismissed Hanuma Vihari, who had by then become an India player.
“I didn’t even know how Vihari looked, but when they told me ‘you’ve got an India player out’, that gave me immense confidence,” he says. “Then I dismissed Ricky Bhui. Our coach Rashmi Ranjan Parida gave me a lot of encouragement. He likened my efforts and bowling style to Ravindra Jadeja. If I can be half as good as him, I know I will be on the right track.”
For now, Bengal’s loss has been Odisha’s gain, and Pappu’s immediate goal for the season is to make his Ranji Trophy debut. “I want to do something for the state,” he says. “We haven’t won the Ranji Trophy, even though we have produced some great players like SS Das and RR Parida. Hopefully, I will take small steps this season.”
Source: ESPN Cricinfo