It was a bright and sunny afternoon back in 2010 when Mohan Jadhav, a coach at the Dileep Vengsarkar Academy in Pune, noticed a chubby 10-year old boy keenly watching an ongoing U-14 practice match. Jadhav knew that the kid practices in the morning session ending at 9:30 am. He asked the boy what he was still doing there when his session ended two hours earlier. What started as a conversation out of curiosity, turned into a beautiful coach student relationship.
Eight years down the line, that kid named Pavan Shah is all set to lead the Indian U-19 colts in the youth Asia Cup starting September 29.
"It was 8 years ago when I saw this kid at the ground late in the afternoon watching an ongoing practice match .I knew he used to practice in the morning session that ended at 9:30 am. When I asked why he is still there even two hours later, he said, 'Sir, I want to watch the match'. So, I let him. But when I came back again a few hours later he was still there unmoved watching the match with keen attention," said Jadhav in an exclusive interview.
"Seeing that I asked him what does he like to do. He said he likes to bat. The match was about to end but I told him to pad up and go out in the middle. As soon as I told him, he padded up quickly and rushed into the centre without any delay. I asked the captain of the bowling team who was a fast bowler to bowl to him. He pitched it short and the ball turned into a bouncer for someone of Pavan's small height back then. Although he missed the ball, the way he tried to execute the pull shot rolling over on his toes in proper balance and with proper use of wrists told me that there is something special in this kid. Add to that, his expressions and frustration after he failed to connect bat with ball, you could clearly see this kid was different from the others of his age group," Jadhav added.
He met his parents afterwards and told them to change his school so that Shah could attend the evening sessions under Jadhav's tutelage. Since then Shah as grown from strength to strength as a player and Jadhav considers himself lucky to live his own dreams through the 18-year old's journey so far.
We are all familiar with how coaches like Ramakant Achrekar, Keshav Banerjee and others have played significant roles in shaping the careers of Indian players like Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and others respectively right since their childhood. And it looks like Mohan Jadhav, who has stood by Shah's side in all difficulties and has helped him take important decisions since the very first day they met, is going along the same lines as well.
Shah considers himself lucky to have such a coach by his side. More than a coach and a teacher, Jadhav is more like a friend to him.
"Mohan sir is like my family. Whatever I have learnt in life, there is a huge contribution of Mohan sir. Wherever I'll go, whatever I become I can never forget what he has done for me. He has worked very hard after me to help me to this position in life. Whenever I start talking about his role in my life, I just fall short of words. I hardly find any word to express what he is for me in my life," said Pavan lamenting on the role of his coach in his life.
His life changed after he was selected in the Indian U19 team as a result of terrific performances in the U19 interzonal tournament which included a 70 against North Zone batting at No. 8 and a 103 against Central Zone opening the innings. Once he was selected, Shah shot himself to fame in the youth Test matches against the Sri Lanka U19 team away from home when he plundered 282 runs off just 332 deliveries in the second match of the series and thus helped his team to a massive victory by an innings and 147 runs. This was his first series for India as a part of the U19 team but the path that he traversed to reach here wasn't smooth at all.
With just three days left before the start of the tour, Shah was roaming on the streets of Pune along with his coach searching for a new bat that could come within the little amount of money his father—a worker in a vehicle manufacturing company—had been able to arrange. Despite their efforts, they couldn't find a bat that could fit both Pavan's requirement and their tight budget.
That was the time when Jadhav thought of seeking the help of Prakash Palande, a registered cricket agent with the England and Wales Cricket Board. On Jadhav's request and assurance, Palande didn't waste time and arranged sponsorship deals for Pavan within just 24 hours. Now the 18-year old not only had a new bat, he had an entirely new cricket kit to his expense.
"What should I tell you about Prakash sir! It has been only 2-3 months since we met and without even knowing me he took care of all my things and arranged my kit within a day. Nobody does so much for someone, not even friends and relatives. I can't thank Prakash sir ever," said Pavan.
Being a cricket agent, Palande stresses on helping young and talented players by all means even before the world recognizes them. He says that sponsorships and endorsements keep raining once a player is established but there are many young players who get lost on their paths just because they don't find the right support at the right time. Prakash is always keen to provide such youngsters with the launch pad required to set them flying towards their dreams.
"When I was busy arranging deals for Pavan, my sister had called me to come over to her place. But I had to refuse as it was extremely important to arrange everything for that young lad within the next day. I told her about the situation that there is a player named Pavan who needs my help and there wasn't much time left. She understood the gravity of the situation," recalled Palande.
"I was extremely happy that I could arrange everything in time but a couple of weeks later when Pavan made the headlines with that innings of 282 runs, my sister called me again to confirm whether it was the same guy I had told her about. My happiness knew no limitations at that moment. It was a great feeling to be able to help someone and watch them succeed."
Shah's first outing in Sri Lanka in the first Test at Colombo didn't go that well as he could manage only 38 runs. But that made him more determined to perform well from next time onwards. Besides his innings of 282 in the second youth Test at Hambantota, Shah also plundered 210 runs at an average of 42 in the limited-overs series that followed.
And Shah gives credit to his father for affecting such a turnaround with his advice. The 18-year old went on to tell how his father helps him in remaining calm and how his words always work like magic in sorting out any difficult situation in life.
"My father is my motivator. Whenever I struggle with any problem in my life I talk to him and everything falls into place automatically. When I couldn't do well in the first Test I called and talked to him. He gave me confidence. He told me that there is nothing wrong with my game. I am playing well but I need to carry on. I entered the next match with the same mindset and that innings of 282 happened," Shah said.
On the back of such a brilliant Sri Lanka tour, Shah has now found a place in the squad to tour Bangladesh for the U19 Asia Cup. And not only that, he has been surprisingly named as the captain to lead the team for the Asia Cup and also the India A team for the quadrangular series featuring India B U19, Nepal U19 and Afghanistan U19 as well.
Shah's life has completely turned around in the last two months or so. And that is because of the hard work, dedication and commitment he has shown towards the game continuously over the years. Jadhav and Palande believe that one of the main reasons behind his success thus far has been his ability to use challenges as sources of motivation and also his ability to balance every aspect of life. Despite dedicating most of his time to cricket, Shah still managed to score 83% and 85% of marks in his 10th and 12th board exams respectively. "Cricket has taught me how to focus on one thing at a time no matter how difficult the situation is around you. So, that is how I learnt to manage my studies as well," said Shah.
Although the responsibility of leading the side now has come as a complete shock for him having never led a side before at this level, he is looking forward to the challenge with high hopes of repaying the coach's and the selectors' faith in him. And for someone who idolizes MS Dhoni, it is not a surprise why coaches see the qualities of a captain in him. "The way Dhoni handles the entire team in pressure situations is tremendous. It is a very rare quality of handling not only himself but the entire team and eventually coming out with winning results at the end. That is what I admire a lot," stated the youngster.
Like his idol, Shah has struggled a lot in his life to be where he is today. But he considers himself extremely lucky to have parents who have never stopped him from pursuing his dreams. In fact, they have always motivated him when he has felt low. There have been even times when he has thought of quitting his career at the U-16 level because of an extended patch of bad form. There were other problems from the financial aspect as well and everything was becoming quite tough to manage for him. He felt like he was done with cricket back then. But it was his parents who kept him going despite all the odds and the hardships. "My mom and dad kept telling me back then that you will face many ups and downs like this in your career. But you can't stop if you really want to achieve something. You have to keep going," Shah recalls.
"You know I never conveyed to my dad that I wanted to play cricket. Seeing me enjoy the game at home, he himself took me for trials to Dilip Vengsarkar Academy when I was 8 years old. My dad has been a huge fan of cricket since childhood. So, the backing was always there."
Shah also remembers how his mother used to carry his kit bag when he was a kid all the way to the ground which was around 10 Km away from their home. She used to experience shoulder pain because of that but she never let him realize. "I got to know it from dad when he told me one day. She experiences that pain in her shoulders even today. They have sacrificed a lot for me. Now, it's time for me to do something for them and give it back."
For now, Shah is only focusing on doing well in the upcoming tour, not only as a captain but also as a player individually. His ultimate goal is obviously to play for India at the highest level but he doesn't like to rush into things. He believes in doing things just like his coach has taught him. Plan, anticipate and take everything forward session by session, just like a Test match.