CHENNAI: “I've been wanting to take a photo with Thala (MS Dhoni) for long… got close a couple of times too. But couldn't. Now I can't believe I will be in the same dressing room as Thala,” Hari Nishaanth says still pinching himself.
Down with a severe headache, the 24-year-old Tamil Nadu opener, had just sat down with a plate of naan and chicken at his hotel room in Indore, where he is currently based to feature in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, when Chennai Super Kings bought him for Rs 20 lakhs.
It is a story that began in Udumalpet, before his family moved to Coimbatore so that Nishaanth gets better access to take up cricket professionally. Born in a middle-class family with his father Cheliyan, a physical education teacher being the sole bread-winner, nothing has come easy for Nishaanth and his family. His elder sister Mythreyi Niveditha had to give up her dreams of becoming a doctor so that Cheliyan could spend his earnings on buying cricketing equipment for Nishaanth.
From the time he walked into bat as a 15-year-old, the left-hander has been carrying the burden of his family. “Every time I go to play, 'our livelihood depends on you,' is a message that has been repeated numerous times. I've been hearing it constantly, now I'm used to it,” he says. Although Nishaanth was a right-hander, his father converted him into a left-hander. “I was a fan of Mark Greatbatch. I couldn't become a cricketer. So I wanted him to fulfill my dream,” Cheliyan said.
Being an aggressive player there is always a peril. There were days his father would be hard on him if he gets out quickly. But eventually, Nishaanth found his way. “It started with Gurumurthy Sir,” Nishaanth says with gratitude.
“People used to abuse me. Even my father was fed up with my shots and had packed my kit bag and locked it up saying cricket elam unaku varadhu (you are not good enough). But Guru Sir was the one who told me not to change my game and back myself,” Nishaanth adds. Ahead of the IPL auction, Nishaanth's performance for Tamil Nadu in the Syed Mushtaq Ali, where he scored 246 runs in eight matches, caught the eye of many franchises. That he eventually found a home in Chennai Super Kings was the icing on the cake.
“Cricket is the only thing he knows and I wanted him to make a career out of it. I expected some team will pick him last season. And when he went unsold in the first round on Thursday, I'd almost given up the hope,” Cheliyan says. While walking into a dressing room full of legends will be enormous for Nishaanth, he will have a familiar face in N Jagadeesan.
The two have been openers for more than eight years. The two opened together for Ramakrishna Mills, their club in Coimbatore. And they did so for TN. Although that might not happen at CSK, Nishaanth isn't looking that far ahead. “I will have some money in my bank now and want to settle my father's loan. And get my mother a gift,” he says.