Bengaluru: Rajasthan paceman Tanvir Ul-Haq’s (aka Tanveer Ul-Haq) cricket journey is replete with unending struggles which speak volumes of his tough character, a trait most fast bowlers possess.

Like most kids in India, Tanvir too started off playing tennis ball cricket in his hometown Dholpur. Right from the beginning, poverty threw many challenges at him. But he was unfazed.

At a very young age, he had to start earning, first at a car garage, then as a newspaper delivery boy, then selling children’s clothes. After all this, he almost gave up his dream of playing cricket and went to Jaipur to make a living by becoming a security guard. But fate had other plans and kept him in cricket.

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After several twists and turns in the 27-year-old’s life, he has reached a stage where he is among the top-five wicket-takers in the ongoing Ranji Trophy season with 50 victims (as on January 16, 2019).

Now in Bengaluru for the quarter-final against Karnataka, MyNation caught up with the left-arm quick and he opened up about his life battles.

The beginning, wearing father’s white pyjamas

“I started playing tennis ball cricket at the age of 10 in Dholpur. My neighbour Dushyant Tyagi bhayya had played Under-17, Under-19 for Rajasthan. I used to see him go for cricket practice every day. Seeing that, I went to him and asked him to take me for practice. Then, after a few days, he obliged,” Tanvir began unfurling his story at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

“When I went for practice, Sumendra Tiwari (former secretary of Rajasthan Cricket Association) sir saw me and told Tyagi bhayya, 'This boy is good, bring him everyday for practice'. Thereafter, I went regularly. However, I did not have shoes and could not afford to buy new ones. I picked up a pair from a hawker selling old shoes on the footpath. But they did not last long,” he recalled.

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He could not buy cricket whites and wore his father’s pyjamas to play matches.

“One day sir (Tiwari) told me to come in whites for a match, but I did not know what to do. Then, I went for the match wearing my father's white pyjamas. Seeing this, sir asked me why was I wearing pyjamas instead of proper white cricket trousers. I could not tell my problem and told him I would change for the next match. But somehow I managed to play three matches with pyjamas. Then Tyagi bhayya told sir about my financial condition.

“Hearing this sir took me to his house and gave to one pair of Reebok shoes, two pairs of cricket whites. He continued to support me with all cricket equipment. Whatever I am today is all because of Tiwari sir. Now when I buy something with my money, he jokes, 'You have become big'. He always tells me to ask whatever I want. He has always been there for me and will be forever,” Tanvir said.

Working at car garage

The first taste of success for Tanvir came when he was selected in Rajasthan’s Under-17 team. However, he went into the wilderness for three years and had to do odd jobs to make ends meet.

“I made it to Rajasthan Under-17 team. But after that I did not play any cricket for three years. Whatever little money I had got by playing for Rajasthan, that was over soon and I was left hunting for a job for my survival. My father was working in a tailor shop and it was tough to depend on him as he had to feed a family of five.

“At 15, I started working at a car garage without informing my parents. One day I got back late from work and my father asked me where I was coming from. When I told him that I had started working, he was disappointed and asked me, 'Do you think I can't feed you? Why do you have to work?' He scolded me and I quit that job,” Tanvir revealed.

Delivering newspapers to homes on borrowed cycle

From a car garage, Tanvir moved to do two more jobs and a third one failed, which was a blessing in disguise.

“After quitting my job at the car garage, I still wanted to help the family and take care of my expenses. So I started delivering newspapers at homes. I borrowed a cycle from my friend and started a new job. I couldn't afford to buy a cycle. I used to earn Rs 300 per month. This was less compared to what I got in the car garage. There I used to earn Rs 20 per day which gave me Rs 600 per month," Tanvir said.

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“I continued as a newspaper delivery boy for about six months but that too ended when I met with an accident on the job. A scooter hit my cycle and I suffered a cut above my left eye.

“My daily routine was to wake up at four in the morning, then offer namaz, deliver newspapers and then head for cricket practice. The day I had an accident, my mother was scared and told me, 'Nobody will go hungry if you don't work'. I listened to her and quit,” Tanvir revealed.  

In search of a security guard job in Jaipur

The Rajasthan pacer continued, “After quitting two jobs, I was now thinking of taking up some other job. I had not played competitive cricket and I was losing hope. But then I saw my friend selling children's clothes by the roadside and I joined him. But that did not work out as there was very less income. Most of the days we were unable to sell anything. I tried for about one month and decided to give up.

“Then I decided to move to Jaipur to become a security guard at a housing colony. I thought I could earn at least Rs 5,000 per month. I wanted to work as a night watchman and play cricket in the morning. But I had lost all my documents for identification proof and hence could not get the job and returned home (Dholpur).”

Under-22 selection the turning point

Tanvir, who says swing is his strength, calls his selection to the Rajasthan Under-22 team as the turning point in his career which opened the doors to the Ranji Trophy. He made his first-class debut in 2015 against Punjab in Jaipur.

On the progress from Under-22 to Ranji Trophy, Tanvir said, “After coming back to Dholpur, Tiwari sir called me up. He told me to go to Udaipur for Under-22 trials. He first called me to his hotel in Jaipur where he gave me Rs 2,000 and asked me to go to Udaipur for trials.

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“By the time I went for the trials, the process was over and the cricketers were selected for a preparatory camp. I was disappointed and called up Tiwari sir to tell him about my plight. I had no money to stay back. Then he helped me to get into the camp where I took 11 wickets in three matches. But that was not enough as I was not selected in the Under-22 team. However, Aniket Choudhary was in the squad but he had to leave for the Ranji Trophy. Then I came in as his replacement.

“That was the turning point of my life. I kept playing age group tournaments — Under-22 and Under-25 — and then went on to represent Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy, one-dayers and T20s,” Tanvir said. 

Tips from Zaheer Khan

Tanvir, who is now pursuing his graduation in Arts, thanked former India paceman Zaheer Khan for sharing bowling tips. Also, he termed England’s James Anderson as his favourite.

“When I started playing I did not watch much on TV. But later on I began to follow England fast bowler James Anderson. He is my favourite. Also, in India, I like Zaheer Khan. I had the honour of meeting him once in Mumbai when I was with the Rajasthan Under-25 team. I interacted with him and he shared some useful bowing tips,” Tanvir said.

Having done so well in the Ranji Trophy, he hopes the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) recognises his efforts.

“My job is to keep performing. We all live in hope. I am hopeful the BCCI will recognise my performances and hopefully I get to play the Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy, Irani Cup, and for India A. I know it is my job to keep taking wickets and one day the selectors will reward me,” he said.

Disappointment in IPL auctions for four years

Tanvir is hurt that no Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise has signed him up so far despite him being in the auction pool for four years.

“I have been in the IPL auction list for the past four years. But unfortunately my name did not come up for bidding even once. It hurts. I always think why is it happening to me. I even attended selection trials of the Mumbai Indians (twice) and Delhi Capitals (the erstwhile Delhi Daredevils). Mumbai told me that they will take a call after watching my performance in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament (T20) but I did not get a chance to play there (for Rajasthan).

“I dream of playing in the IPL. There was a time in Indian cricket when the Ranji Trophy was big, but now the IPL has grown bigger and most players want to play in it. That brings fame. Earlier, people used to recognise players by saying that he is a Ranji player but now it is the IPL,” Tanvir noted.

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Now, with the tough past behind him, Tanvir is looking forward to better things on the cricket field. His immediate goal is to win the quarter-final and take Rajasthan all the way to Ranji Trophy glory.

Tanvir is surely a shining example for those who don’t want to give up on their dreams.

After all, in life or sport, hard work definitely pays off.