If reaching there is difficult, sustaining for long is far more tedious. Many cricketers realised this the hard way as all the struggles and sacrifices at the domestic cricket weren’t enough for them to have an eventual crack at what they deeply aspired for. There are myriad tales of sportsmen who sparkled at the start only to fritter away and fall by the wayside and the first name that comes to mind is that of a certain Mumbaikar – Vinod Kambli. As India and West Indies are now involved in a two-match Test series, we have decided to go back and picked five such cricketers from both the teams who came up with a lot of promise but lost to the cruelty of the oblivion.
The turn of the millennium brought fresh perspectives and a new way of looking at Indian cricket. Coming out of the match-fixing scandal, the senior pros in the Indian team had the job of re-establishing the trust and while they were doing their bit in an earnest way, possibly, they were in a hurry too. In early 2002, when India played their first Test of the series against West Indies at Port of Spain, a young 20-year-old was ready to don the gloves. The days of Engineer and Kirmani were long gone and in their bid to find an able wicket-keeper batsman, India were left searching every nook and cranny of the country.
Just 16 runs in the first four innings didn’t help his cause, and Ajay Ratra just survived the scare to play in Antigua. However, who would’ve imagined what was about to transpire in the sunny land of Sir Viv Richards in the third Test of his career. Ratra bruised the West Indian bowling line up comprising Mervyn Dillon, Cameron Cuffy, Adam Sanford, and Pedro Collins for a solid unbeaten 115 which made him the youngest wicket-keeper to score a century and for the longest time, the only Indian wicket-keeper to have a century outside, until Rishabh Pant bettered it last year in England.
While the Test made him the darling of masses, it proved to be a false dawn as Ratra slipped into oblivion after a string of below-par performances. The rise of Parthiv Patel in Test cricket and Sourav Ganguly’s decision to make Rahul Dravid make-shift opener in ODIs shut the door on Ratra’s international career. He could never play for India again. A promising talent lost in the sea of Indian cricket.
The 2008 Under-19 World Cup had seen many of the future stars squaring off against each other. The likes of Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Kane Williamson, Steve Smith, Joe Root, and Tim Southee started their journey to a more beautiful future, but many others had faltered along the way. The way Adrian Barath had given the mileage to his Test career, it is surprising that he had to be a member of that second community.
Making his debut at the Gabba, against Australia, Bharath scored a finely-crafted 104 when the chips were down. The Windies were following on and composure that he had shown at the age of 19 years to become youngest West Indies cricketer to score a Test century was there to see. Although his innings couldn’t save them from losing by an innings margin, the signs of a golden future shone brighter. However, in a dramatic fashion, Bharath’s career plummeted and he played a total of 15 Tests for the Windies before going to England to ply his trade in second-division county cricket.
Few players in Indian cricket can claim to be as technically sound and consistent in run-making as Badrinath was but the cruel fate of the luck meant he had to end up with only two Tests to his name. There is a fair enough reason for the same too. A late bloomer by every standard, Badrinath had to compete with none other than Virat Kohli for a spot in the Indian team and chances started going back from his hands at a snap of a finger.
When he was named as Sachin Tendulkar’s replacement for the Sri Lanka ODIs in 2008, there was every reason to believe that he could actually make it big in Indian cricket. His water-tight technique had been pretty splendid too as he countered the spinners in the perfect way to see India through to a tense win.
Despite scoring a 56 on debut, all Badrinath could add to his name was one more Test after which he was jettisoned from the Indian team for good. Although he never made a comeback after that, he remained as one of the unluckiest cricketers to have played for India.
If Bardinath’s was a classic case of too much competition, Pankaj Singh’s fate was decided by others. Very few remember Singh’s ODI debut, which came at a non-descript Harare Sports Club against Sri Lanka in 2010. But his Test debut had a lot of drama attached to it to be forgotten so easily for any avid Indian cricket follower. Only the fourth Indian fast bowler to pick 400 domestic wickets after Madan Lal, Debashish Mohanty, and Vinay Kumar, had an almost catastrophic fall on Test debut against England in the 2014 series.
After failing to find a spot in the side for the first two Tests, Pankaj had a sudden lifeline when Ishant Sharma was sidelined due to injury for the third Test at Southampton. He bowled his heart and grit, but Ravindra Jadeja dropped a catch off him at the slip – that too off Alastair Cook – and had LBW shouts negated. While it could have been two in just a few moments, the pacer ended his career with a total of two wickets before moving away from the theatre.
He kept himself pushing for Rajasthan – a team whom he led to two consecutive Ranji Trophy titles – before moving to Puducherry where he is piling his trade as a professional now. From that day in Harare to Southampton, Pankaj could’ve added a lot more to his career, had it not been his cruel fate.
The Sunday Times’ title of “Nash cracks Caribbean barrier”, which was also a reference to the cricketer belonging to the white community, was an iconic headline. After seeing his career going nowhere in Queensland in Australia, Nash moved to Jamaica and when he made his debut against New Zealand at McLean Park, he became the first white cricketer to have played for West Indies in over 35 years.
In the 21-match Test career, Nash gave enough signs of composure and the ability to soak in the pressure but such has been the cruelty of the international cricket that the lines between prodigious talents and above average players begin to widen by a mile and Nash succumbed to that. After appearing for a Test match against India in 2011, Nash left the scene and had to commit himself to Division 2 County Cricket ever since. Could he have achieved more than he eventually did? Possibly.