CSK’s Mukesh Choudhary: Bowler’s envy, neighbour’s pride

Cricket

A typical Puneri neighbour took charge of the young boy’s life as an outstation student in the city, and shepherded him with generous doses of scoldings and encouragement. Against MI, Mukesh scalped Rohit Sharma, Dewald Bravis and Ishan Kishan.

Shared News: April 24, 2022 7:23:20 pm
MS Dhoni with Mukesh Choudhary. (Screengrab)

Mukesh Choudhary scarcely knew that a neighbour whom he had once refused to help out with shifting her home furniture, would end up playing a major role in his life. The incident happened when 17-year-old Choudhary moved into a rented apartment at Kothrud in Pune, where his neighbour Vaishali Sawant sought his help.

“I had called him, ‘oye Dhoni’,” Sawant remembers the young neighbour in cricketing whites. “I asked him can I keep my flat’s furniture in his flat for some time, so that I can get my interior work done at my home. He had refused then and he didn’t even help us to move the furniture.” Pune apartment complexes from Kothrud, where incidentally Kedar Jadhav and earlier Dheeraj Jadhav came from, still believe in close neighbourly relations, which extend to being bizarrely horrified if a next-door teen refuses to help with furniture.

“When he refused, I asked him, family ne manners nahi diye hai hai kya? He might have realised his mistake and he agreed to help,” Sawant recalls with a laugh now.

On Saturday night, when Choudhary took three wickets against Mumbai Indian including the scalp of IPL’s most expensive player Ishan Kishan with a toe crushing yorker, he fulfilled the promise he had made to many, including his neighbour Vaishu’ who became a friend. His three wickets included Rohit Sharma, Kishan and Dewald Bravis which earned him his first man of the match in the IPL for CSK.

Back at his rented house, Sawant took care of the fast bowler’s mental conditioning. She gave him inspirational books to read. (Express photo)

Back then Choudhary hadn’t realised that the bossy but caring neighbour would soon become his mentor, coach, sister, brother and father. Choudhary used to stay alone in Pune where he had completed his boarding school. He had moved into a rented apartment alone. Sawant says as a neighbour sometimes she got worried if the boy had eaten since he lived alone. “There were days when he fell ill. He used to feel lonely. I used to ensure that my family takes care of him like our own child,” she adds.

Choudhary studied in his boarding school in Pune and took admission in the science stream. His family, who were from the cotton-growing city of Yavatmal, and had a small business, wanted their son to study. But studies were not his first choice, the left-handed pacer wanted to play cricket.

Mukesh Choudhary of the Chennai Superkings celebrates the wicket of Rohit Sharma captain of Mumbai Indians during match 33 of Indian Premier League 2022. (Sportzpics for IPL/PTI Photo)

“He was good in studies, he got 80 percent marks in standard XI but he wanted to play, Sawant recalls. “He came and told me Vaishu, I want to pursue my career in cricket. So I said, then try but be focussed. To achieve everything one has to make sacrifices, so be ready for that. I became his guardian since then. I took care of his diet, his cricket, and his off-field activities,” Sawant recalls.

Breaking into a top club

Choudhary was playing in small clubs, and it was then that he was told to go to join 22-yards Cricket Club where former national selector and Maharashtra team coach Surendra Bhave used to coach. Bhave was impressed at first sight.

“I saw this young lanky boy with a good action, good landing and ability to clock 125 kmph on consistent basis. We did some fine-tuning but he was getting wasted in my club. To play for Maharashtra he had to play in a big team who could give him the opportunity to play in invitational tournaments. It’s only then that he came on the selectors’ radar,” Bhave explains.

Soon Bhave spoke to the city’s foremost central club Deccan Gymkhana, who agreed to enroll Chaudhary in their team. Deccan have players like Rahul Tripathi, who ensured Chaudhary was groomed.

Choudhary soon made it to the under 23 team and then in the same year 2017 he made his Ranji Trophy debut. Bhave knew that if he gained some height he would get more pace in the future.

“The best part of him is that he listens, will do his work quietly and will not throw any tantrum. It’s always nice to teach such bowlers,” Bhave points out.

Back at his rented house, Sawant took care of the fast bowler’s mental conditioning. She gave him inspirational books to read, told him stories about how she had seen cricketers who lost their way despite being good to start with. And how they must have regretted later. Prepared his daily chart. Like a family member, he used to message the Sawants on reaching the ground and after reaching home.

Mukesh Choudhary with neighbour Vaishali Sawant. (Express Photo)

“One day he said, let me find a job. I said, why do you want to work? How much money could he require to feed himself. I took care of the food and in return he promised he will continue to work hard and not lose focus or get distracted. At this age, youngster do get lost. I used to keep tabs on his off field activities and he is such a sweet boy that he never lost his plot. Soon he went on to play Ranji Trophy, so financial issue was sorted,” she asserted.

Sawant recalls how two seasons ago he had come and told her that he won’t be going as a net bowler anymore, and received an earful. “He was a net bowler with Hyderabad and later for CSK. He came and said, aage se mein net bowler banke nahi jaoonga. I gave it back to him, I said how the hell can you say you can’t go. It’s like a school, you will get to learn. Next year he got picked for CSK and look now. We all are happy. I had told him that the best thing that happened was that he failed in the first two games. Failure teaches a man a lot,” Sawant, who works in a construction company, said.

A shy boy, who didn’t really dream big, Chaudhary has tried to keep a low profile. His coaches feel the best thing going for him is he has Dhoni as a mentor. Post IPL, many things will change for Choudhary. But Vaishali happily declares one thing is sure, he will grow as a bowler.