On 2nd March 2008, as Sachin Tendulkar scored a century to lead India to a victory over Australia in the first final of the CB series, news about the triumph of another Indian cricket team trickled in.
In Malaysia, a bunch of teenagers had got themselves a place in history by becoming only the second Indian team to win the Under-19 cricket World Cup.
Defending 18 runs in the final over of the rain curtailed summit clash against South Africa, a little known Punjab seamer Siddharth Kaul showcased great skills and a sense of maturity to bowl a brilliant last over in which he gave away just six runs and picked up two wickets and seal a thrilling victory.
The performance capped off a brilliant campaign for the right-arm medium pacer who finished with 10 wickets at a measly 15.4 runs apiece to emerge as the joint highest wicket-taker for India in the tournament.
Many of his teammates from the World Cup winning team have made it big at the next level. His skipper in the World Cup, Virat Kohli is now one of the leading batsmen in world cricket and first in line to take the mantle of captaincy from Mahendra Singh Dhoni. All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, after a roller-coaster ride in the international circuit, is now the leading bowler in ODI cricket.
Even the likes of Saurabh Tiwary and Manish Pandey have proved their mettle and are sought after entities in the IPL. But Kaul has been left to play catch up as a spate of injuries and poor form conspired to derail his career.
Coached by his father Tej Kaul, a former Team India physiotherapist, from a very young age, Kaul started his first class career in the 2007-08 season and made an immediate impact. Making his debut alongside his brother, Punjab wicketkeeper Uday Kaul, he started off with a five-wicket haul against Orissa and caught the attention of selectors despite the presence of other domestic stalwarts like Gagandeep Singh and VRV Singh.
Following his success in the Under-19 grade, he was lapped up by Kolkata Knight Rider in the IPL. Though he was on the bench throughout the tournament, he was marked as one to watch out for in the future. But that is when things took an ugly turn.
During a league match in Delhi, he suffered a serious injury on his knee while fielding. Kaul was diagnosed with a grade I ligament rupture which forced him out of the action for several months.
The knee got further damaged when he tried to make an ill advised early comeback even though he hadn’t completely recuperated from the injury. Kaul had to take a lengthy break from competitive cricket and work towards his recovery and fitness under the watchful eyes of his physiotherapist father.
After missing out for a complete season, Kaul slowly got into the grove with some decent performances in Under-22 All India C K Nayadu Trophy and was all set to make a return to the Punjab Ranji team but the worse was yet to come.
In another cruel twist of destiny, he strained his side during a practice session and was, once again, sidelined from action. One more season in wilderness followed. Bowling and injuries, they say, go hand in hand and Kaul was having a first hand experience of the maxim.
Back to back setbacks would have been tough to handle for any budding youngster but Kaul brought his mental strength to the fore. It was during this period that the compelling story of Yuvraj Singh’s fight with cancer surfaced and Kaul drew every bit of inspiration from his senior state-mate’s struggle against the deadly disease.
The prayers and the perseverance eventually paid off as Kaul finally made his much awaited comeback into first class cricket in the 2012-13 season. It also proved to be a breakthrough season for the right arm medium pacer who announced his return with a rich haul of 44 wickets in 9 matches to finish as the second highest wicket-taker in the Ranji competition.
According to him, the glut of wickets were not due to any new weapon in his armoury or any major technical change in his bowling but due to a greater emphasis on hitting the right line and length. He was more keen on getting the basics right and be patient for the results – an often underrated requisite in four-day cricket which Kaul probably learnt during the torturous two years he spend on the sidelines.
Recently declared as the Best Emerging Cricketer by the Punjab Cricket Association, he has been given a spot in the South Africa bound India A team.
Ever since one can remember, the seam department has been a perennial issue for the men in blue and a good show in the tour will fast track Kaul to the seniors’ team.
The wickets in South Africa will have more bounce and will be conducive for the pacers but he, on his first tour to South Africa, must ensure that he doesn’t get carried away and keeps his basics right.