Priyam Garg, who on Monday was named captain of the Indian team for the under-19 World Cup, credited his father for helping him achieve his dream of playing cricket. Had it not been for Naresh, his son would not have been able to pursue a career in the game. The under-19 World Cup will be played in South Africa from January 17 to February 9.
"My father didn't have enough money to take care of a big family and support my cricket. But seeing my love and dedication for the sport, he borrowed money from his friend, bought me cricket kits and arranged for my coaching. Due to my father's hard work today I'm captain of the under-19 team," the Uttar Pradesh youngster was quoted as saying.
Parents make sacrifices to help children achieve their goals. But what Naresh did was exceptional. A man with modest background, he could not pursue education beyond high school. With the responsibility of a family of seven (wife, three daughters, two sons) on his shoulders, he was forced into odd jobs to make ends meet. He used to deliver milk on his bicycle, with Priyam riding pillion and drove school vans before being employed as a driver with the Uttar Pradesh health department on a contractual basis.
"We hail from Quila Parikshitgarh village. Life was never easy for us. Priyam is the youngest of five siblings. He was always keen on sports. It was difficult to sustain, but seeing his love for cricket, I decided to get him admitted in an academy run by Sanjay (Rastogi) sir at Victoria Park (now Bhamashah Park) in Meerut," Naresh told this correspondent.
Admission was not an issue, but the daily commute was. "I along with Priyam used to pedal to the academy in the morning. It's around 25km from my village. Priyam got admission in a school in Meerut. After school and evening session at the academy, I used to bring him back."
This continued for two years before Naresh joined the health department. The struggles, though, were far from over as Naresh's wife Kusum Devi died in 2011. The loss of his mother made Priyam miserable and he left the academy for a brief period.
Naresh and coach Rastogi, however, convinced him to resume cricket. "Sanjay bhai sahab took care of everything. I just followed his instructions as he had complete faith in Priyam's abilities," recalls Naresh.
Priyam started as a pacer but began developing his batting skills under the guidance of Rastogi. "He wanted to become a pacer but later shifted his attention to batting. Given his thin frame, it proved to be a good decision," says Rastogi.
The hard work paid dividends as Priyam made his senior team debut for Uttar Pradesh last season (2018-19). He slammed a century against Goa in his first match. In 12 first-class matches so far, he has amassed 867 runs including a double century. In one-dayers, he has 539 runs including a century in 15 matches. In 11 T20s, he has scored 227 runs with two half-centuries to his credit.
Captaincy is not new to the 19-year-old right-hand batsman, as he had led the UP U-16 and U-19 teams. He was also named UP skipper for the Ranji Trophy beginning on November 9 but given India U-19 responsibility, it is unlikely that he will be able to lead the stateside now.
"He will come to Meerut for a day on Wednesday. He loves challenges and was quite happy when made captain of the India U-19 team for the World Cup. I hope India defend the title under his leadership in South Africa," the coach added.
After all the sacrifices, Naresh perhaps deserves a more peaceful life now. His children have been telling him to give up his job. "My elder son Shivam has completed a course in pathology. The daughters, too, have completed their studies. They and Priyam want me to retire now and enjoy life without worrying for the future," the father signed off.