10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the top

The neo-cricket era looks at cricketers through a different perspective. Cricketers have become celebrities who are seen as glamour kings, who bedeck fashion rags, date models and fix matches.

Cricketers are often associated with money and are misconstrued to be avaricious. But among all the incredibly rich and impressively famous cricketers, there are stories of some inspiring and enthralling lives of men who ascended from the debris of lopsided urbanization and unfair disasters.

These are stories that have a tinge of novelty, a trace of poetic justice, and a scintilla of cinematic episodes. The slides contain tales of Slumdog Millionaires, tsunami boys, hamlet heroes and a toilet cleaner.

Here are 10 cricketers who have overcome struggles to reach the top:

#1 Umesh Yadav

Umesh Yadav - 10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the top

Nagpur is an archaic region- a region where cars are still looked upon like space ships, where farmer suicides are daily affairs and where people dwell in room sized abodes. This town is India’s geographical centre. Despite being a part of the state of Maharashtra, Nagpur is in backwaters both economically and cricket wise.

It is from this part of the world, arguably India’s fastest ever bowler hails. Hurling tennis bowls at express pace, Umesh Yadav spent his childhood playing no leather ball cricket. His father was a coal miner and the family lived in a settlement for coal miners. Life was tough. Breaking even was a luxury.

Umesh Yadav could not pursue his education beyond class XII. Yadav’s father didn’t want his youngest son to end up as a coal miner, hence requested him to do something with his life. Umesh tried to join the army but was rebuffed. He then attempted to get into police service but missed it by a whisker.

He had nothing else to do. All avenues in his life seemed to have been closed. He would spend day in, day out bowling fast with the tennis ball.

A victory for his team or a man of the match award would earn him 8-10, 000 Indian rupees, which would be adequate for a month or two. Realizing that tennis ball cricket would not earn him much, he tried to take up leather ball cricket.  An attempt to get into his college cricket team became a failure since he played no club cricket.

So he joined the Vidarbha Gymkhana. He bowled with shoes sans spikes and got 3 for 37. Soon, words about a rookie, raw paced bowler started doing rounds around the Vidarbha Cricket Association. A cinematic, fairy tale ascend began, and Yadav whistled up the rungs.

Within months of playing with a leather ball, Yadav made his first-class debut. He rose like a rocket off its launch pad.

In the Duleep Trophy that followed the fast bowler picked up a five-for which included the wickets of Dravid and Laxman.

The seamer had an athletic body. He was burly and had a shoulder girdle- a rarity among Indian pacers. His express pace and lethal yorkers soon earned him a berth in the Indian line up.

A son of a coal miner was soon bought by Delhi Daredevils for $30, 000 in 2008. He made his ODI debut in 2010 and test debut in 2011. Being the country’s fastest bowler Umesh Yadav would be one of India’s key weapons in its arsenal going into the world cup in Australia and New Zealand.


#2 Akila Dananjaya

Akila Dananjaya - 10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the top

If you think that life won’t change overnight, then this lad will prove you wrong. Akila Dananjaya- when this unknown 18-year old’s name appeared in Sri Lanka’s squad for the 2012 WT20, Sri Lanka was taken aback. Some said politics has played a role. Others believed money was doing the talking. The remainder thought it was a genuine mistake.

How on earth could a teenager, who has played no first class matches, no list A matches and no under 19 matches be named for an even as big as WT20? Unlike other wunderkinds of Sri Lanka, he didn’t come from the elite schools of the island. In fact he played for an unknown school called Mahanama Vidyalaya, in Panandura- a suburb of Colombo. He played in tier three in school cricket, a tier that mostly goes unnoticed.

So what made him to be fast-tracked into the highest level? Dananjaya was a son of a carpenter. He had been brought in for a practice session to emulate Saeed Ajmal’s doosras.

But what the youngster did was to bamboozle the country’s leading player of spin with a spree of off breaks, leg breaks, googlies, carrom balls and all the other variations a spin bowler could bowl. Soon the team that was in the middle of a practice session spoke of nothing but Akila Dananjaya.

Mahela Jayawardane, the batsman who faced Akila, soon fast-tracked him into the national setup. With a strong performance in the now defunct SLPL, Akila Danajaya made his T20I debut for Sri Lanka against New Zealand in the 2012 WT20.

In his very first match, he was struck on the face by a full blooded drive from Rob Nicol, which broke the teenager’s cheek bone. With a broken face and blood oozing through the eye socket, the spunky rookie came back and bowled all four of his overs and picked up 2 for 32, the best figures in that innings.

A boy who spent midnights collecting discarded cricket balls in cricket grounds in the village of Panadura, is now the heartthrob of his village.


#3 Raymond Price

Raymond Price - 10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the top

Ray Price hails from a country of turmoil. The left arm spinner from Zimbabwe who was once the leading bowler in the world was born fighting.

At birth, the odds of him surviving was just 25%. He lost his hearing ability to meningitis but later a surgery restored his hearing. But the effect of the disease reflected badly on his coordination skills as a child.

When he started playing for Zimbabwe, Price was considered useless and was forced to leave cricket in 2004 as a part of the massive influx that shook Zimbabwe Cricket.

Before becoming a professional cricketer, the left-armer was involved in a lot of menial jobs. He repaired air conditioners and cleaned toilets to win bread for his family.

He made a return to Zimbabwe cricket when he was at the wrong end of 30s and used his guile to spin webs around the opposition batsmen. He together with Utseya became two leading bowlers in world cricket.


#4 Kamran Khan

Kamran Khan - 10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the top

Bollywood is known for its out of the world logic and unrealistic proceedings. The protagonist from being a mendicant would turn into a millionaire in the space of  a 5 minute song.

Albeit, these gimmicks seem far-fetched, the land continues to prove its bollywoodish stories with a preponderant number of incredibly astonishing tales of soaring personalities. Let it be Satyam Nadella’s ascension to the helm of Microsoft or Kalpana Chawla’s rise to the space, India keeps proving that cinematic events do happen in real lives.

In cricket, of course, there is a story of cricketer that is worth making a movie on. Kamran Khan, a left arm slingy express bowler who played fro Rajasthan in 2009, rose from near oblivion and became an overnight star.

He was from a family of wood cutters which gifted him with strong shoulders. He lived his life in poverty. With just a pair of white cricket kits, he commuted between Kanpur and Lucknow for trials.

He didn’t have a place to sleep, and hence, would spend his nights in the railway stations. Though he had the pace that could trouble batsmen of all caliber, he didn’t have enough money to exhibit to people who matter.

But luck greeted him with glee, when Rajasthan’s director of coaching spotted him in a T20 tourney in Mumbai. Soon the 18 year old was handed over a contract of $24,000.

Had that money reached his hands two years earlier, he would not have lost his mother, he admitted later. For a boy sleeping on the rugged railway platforms, five star hotel luxury beds were “uncomfortable” to sleep.


#5 Mohammad Yousuf

Mohammad Yousuf - 10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the top

Mohammad Yousuf aka Yousuf Yohana, is arguably one of Pakistan’s most technically sound batsmen.

With his exquisite timing, high back lift and delayed shots, the Pakistani batting supremo have earned a lot fans. But a very few us actually have paid heed to his darker younger life.

Yousuf was born in the Hindu caste of Balmiki, who were considered untouchables. The ruthlessness of the caste system forced his family to convert to Christianity. Though the conversion brought the family some recognition, it failed to improve their dire economy.

Yousuf’s father was a worker in a railway station and the family lived in a railway colony. The financial frailty of his family didn’t allow the Pakistani batsman to possess a bat. He used wooden planks of outlandish shapes to strike tape balls. Yousuf was spotted by the Golden Gymkhana but his circumstances dictated terms and he gave up the hope of playing for Pakistan.

He wanted to join an organisation with a first-class team, which will be the dual solution for his need to earn and thirst for cricket. But when money became the primary need, he gave up cricket in 1994. He tried to earn some pennies driving Rickshaws.

The pendulum swung; A local club had a paucity for players. Hence, Yousuf was stopped short of working for a tailor’s shop and was roped into the team as a makeweight. Someone who was expected to make up numbers ended up scoring a century.

When he began his first class career, Lahore rejected him both due to his background and religious faith. But his cricketing dexterity transcended all social distinctions and Yousuf became Pakistan’s fourth Christian cricketer.


#6 Manoj Tiwary

Manoj Tiwary - 10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the topThe young aggressive batsman from India who has earned the moniker “India’s Kevin Pietersen” for his penchant for hitting balls to the midwicket boundary is yet another Indian who defied fate and refused to bow down in the face of adversity.Tiwary proved the conviction that cricket is a rich man’s sport wrong. He was a son of a railway officer. The Indian right handed was born in a family of five, in Kolkata. His father could not fend for the family let alone spend for his cricket expenses.However, Tiwary was obstinately glued to the love of his life. His passionate infatuation with cricket finally paved the way for him to break grounds. His brother Raj Kumar Tiwary, realizing the inherent talents of his younger brother, finally obtained loans to send him to the local club.

He made his Ranji trophy debut in 2005 and captained India’s U19 team. He is much known for his innings in the final of IPL 2012, when he diligently finished an exhilarating run chase for his franchise Kolkata Knight Riders.


#7 Mohammad Irfan

Mohammad Irfan - 10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the top

The 7 foot 1 inch tall Pakistani seamer, didn’t want his height to go to waste, but was unsure how it can be materialized. His eternal quest came to an end when he found an exceptional bowler within himself.

Irfan, the tallest cricketer ever, was born into a poor family of a lower class.  He could complete only his secondary education and joined a PVC factory to earn a living. Although, he was an avid cricketer, fear of losing his livelihood never allowed the giant bowler to concentrate on cricket.

As every South Asian, he started with a tennis ball and later parlayed his exploits onto a hard ball cricket. He says that he played for his village club wearing Shalwar Kameez and school shoes since he could not afford proper kits.

It took 5 years for the Pakistan Cricket Board to reckon his talent as it is the case with all talents from smaller towns. However, his cricket future became rest assured after he made his first class debut.

His performances in the first class fixtures of Pakistan in 2009 was extremely impressive and soon a contract from KKR flew his way. However, IPL’s aversion to Pakistan dissuaded a contract being signed between Irfan and KKR.


#8 Pathan brothers

Pathan brothers - 10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the top

Irfan and Yusuf Pathan of India have both set the stadiums on fire on more than one occasion. But the best would be when both of them put together a partnership to take India home against Sri Lanka in the first T20I in the island.

Irfan Pathan is a seam bowling all-rounder who is popular for his banana swing into right handers. His brother Yusuf Pathan is leather ball marauder who hits the ball a mile. Despite their on-field exploits being affluent, both of them were born in an impoverished family.

Their father was a muezzin, someone who calls for prayers in a mosque. The Pathan brothers were so adhered to the game that their cricket had no bounds. His father often had to apologize to the worshipers for the intrusion caused by their cricket inside the mosque.

Even though their father wanted them to become Islamic scholars their lust for cricket won the battle.

Irfan Pathan made his debut for India in 2003. In 2006, he became the only bowler in history to take a hat-trick in the very first over of a test match. His prodigious swing made him to be compared to the likes of Wasim Akram and later with his improved batting forged a comparison between him and Kapil Dev.

Yusuf, on the other hand. is a ball basher. He has two ODI hundreds and and some useful wickets with his smart off breaks.


Dinesh Chandimal - 10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the top

Chandimal has had a roller coaster ride for Sri Lanka.

From being a chucker for Dharmasoka College, he got a scholarship to play for Ananda College- one of Sri Lanka’s leading schools, captained his school’s first XI- the only student to do so after getting a scholarship, broke a school record that had stood for 40 years, was asked to join the NCC by Kumar Sangakkara, made a century at Lord’s, scored twin fifties in his test debut at Durban, was made the vice-captain of both Sri Lanka’s test and ODI teams, was made the captain of the T20 side, played in the 2014 WT20 as captain, then dropped himself midway through the tournament, was later axed from the helm and was finally dropped from the team.

Lokuge Dinesh Chandimal, the man with a cherubic smile brought in what Mahela as a school kid dished out to cricket fans in the 90s. He was a prodigy who made his willow break records.

Chandimal started his cricket career at Dharmashoka Vidyalaya as an off spinner. After playing two games, he was found to be a chucker and was barred from bowling. His coach threw the keeping gloves at him and he held on to them firmly.  Until 17, it was his skills behind the stumps that earned him a spot in the first XI. Before long, his batting improved and he earned a scholarship to Ananda College.

But fate spun a plight around his life in the form of the boxing day Tsunami. The monster wave that struck the island in 2004, took his home, his cricket kits and everything else the family had along with it. Chandimal’s family was left wretched. Instead of lamenting over what has come to pass, the family relished the fact that it didn’t suffer any casualties.

In Ananda, he became the captain of the side and went on to win 12 outright games for his school, the first such occurrence in Sri Lanka’s school history.

His test debut incidentally came on the boxing day of 2011, exactly 7 years after the waves wrecked havoc with his family. Braving the venomous pace of the South Africans,  Chandimal put the lessons of the tsunami into good effect showing gritty tenacity in helping Sri Lanka win their first test on the Proteas soil.


#10 Pulina Tharanga

Pulina Tharanga - 10 cricketers who defied struggles to reach the top

The Sri Lankan leg spinner’s tale is poignant and utterly devastating. The giant waves that destroyed most parts of South Asia in 2004, leaving indelible marks in the history of the nations sharing the Bengal Sea, didn’t fail to scar Pulina Tharanga’s life.

As with all Sri Lankans, cricket was in his genes. He was born to a fishing family in the south coast of Sri Lanka in a poverty stricken village.

Pulina wanted to play cricket but his parents eschewed him from pursuing his dreams since the family could not afford the expensive cricket equipment. But he furtively started playing cricket without any protective gears and earned his wing into the under eleven team.

While his parents did extra jobs in addition to fishing to feed the family, Pulina continued playing cricket surreptitiously.

At the dawn of 26th of December, 2004, Tharanga left for school to inform his coach of the leg injury he had sustained. The coach asked him not to go back home since there was a deluge in the village.

The youngster didn’t pay much attention since the village getting flooded during high tides was a norm. He stayed at his friend’s house and his brother came to pick him. On returning to the infernal wreckage of his village, he asked his brother as to where their mom was. “The sea has taken her away” came the answer. The sea that fed his family had now preyed upon his mother and the entire village. The fishing village was no more, his family’s livelihood was now a part of the history.

Aged eleven, Tharanga was too obstinate and persistent to give up on his dreams.

He sought the help of Foundation of Goodness, a trust run by Murali, to help him materialize his dream. As a result, he got his first cricket gears and kits. But tragedy had found Pulina to be an excellent companion. Soon, the Lankan lad lost his father at sea. Having been orphaned in his teenage years, Pulina was too strong to be lamenting the loss he had incurred.

Kushil Gunasekara, became Tharanga’s mentor, but he was reluctant to ask his mentor for money. On seeing Pulina’s unyielding love for cricket his grandmother paid for his cricketing expenses.

His talent measured him up to play for Tamil Union Club. It was during that time a chance to play for Sri Lanka’s under 19 team came calling. In the trial match, Pulina scored 70 and picked up 4 wickets with his leg breaks.

He became a part of the U19 squad to Australia for the world cup. Even though, Sri Lanka failed to make it to the top eight, Tharanga earned encomium from Sangakkara for an innings he played against South Africa.

Tharanga walking in at Sri Lanka 68/6, made a fighting unbeaten 50 to take his team to a respectable total. His innings was a microcosm of his resilient character, the character that was moulded by monster waves, tragedies and poverty.

Tharanga now makes 2000 Sri Lankan Rupees per first class game and returns them intact to his loving grandmother who helped resuscitate his cricket career. He still lives by his granny’s wise words, “Never ever play cricket for money.”

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