Traveling 50km to academy, testing Covid positive, Shaik Rasheed battles setbacks to thrive in semis


The cricket academy where India’s U-19 World Cup vice-captain Shaik Rasheed trained was in Mangalgiri, some 50 kilometers from his home in Guntur. But Rasheed, who scored a valuable 94 in the semi-final against Australia, rarely missed a day of practice as his father, Shaik Balisha, used to transport him the whole distance on his scooter. Every day.

Rain or shine, hot or dusty – Guntur can be hot in the summer – nothing mattered to him.

He lost jobs, could barely support himself, moved away, but kept the dream of cricket burning in his son’s heart. He was a recuperation officer for banks in Hyderabad when his friend saw Rasheed kicking during a match at the academy (Prasad Cricket Academy). “He called me and told me he was talented and that I should encourage him. Unfortunately, we weren’t financially strong enough to support his training and studies, in addition to paying rent. So in 2012, I returned to Guntur,” recalls Balisha.

But then launched into more works. Balisha had no idea what to do next. Local academy fees were too expensive to enroll him. But pushed to the extreme, he found solutions. He started taking Rasheed to a cricket ground four miles from his house and started kicking him low. A few months later, he discovered ACA’s residential cricket academy and took Rasheed for trial.

Rasheed, though young, understood how far his father had gone to preserve his dream of playing cricket. “He never asked me to take him to the cinema or to a park or a toy or a gadget. He always loved cricket and I did what I could to provide everything for him,” adds- he.

Coach, the savior

The stars then began to align. Rasheed left academy coach J Krishna Rao amazed with his technique and composure. “He must have been 7 or 8 years old and faced our U-16 bowlers quite comfortably. He looked so calm. Deep down in me, I knew he had talent and that he had to be nurtured with delicacy,” said the coach.

All went well until his father lost his job at a local car company because he started coming to work late for the 50 km commute. The coach offered a solution. “His father was a bit hesitant but I managed to convince him to let Rasheed stay at the academy,” says Rao, who is also the coach of wicketkeeper KS Bharat.

Two years later, Rasheed was selected for the Andhra U-14 team. Then in the Vijay Merchant Trophy in the 2018-19 season, he amassed 674 carries at 168.50, including three centuries to drop a note on his blossoming potential. The dream race continued. In the Vinoo Mankad Trophy (2020-21), he became the second-biggest run-getter, collecting 376 runs in six matches. Selected for the U-19 Asian Cup in December last year, he scored an unbeaten 90 from 103 against Bangladesh in the semi-finals.

The stage was set for the U-19 World Cup when he tested positive after the opener against South Africa. A disappointed Rasheed phoned his trainer Krishna Rao and broke down. “He had all the symptoms of Covid. He had a high fever and severe body aches. He called him around 2 a.m. and started crying: “Sir, I think my World Cup is over.” I might not recover for knockouts,” Rao says.

But the coach allayed his fears. To kill the festering negativity, he distracted him. “We talked about his dismissal against South Africa. He had scored 31 and was well placed heading out. After talking about cricket for 30 minutes, I felt a new energy in him. We talked about things we can control. I asked him to follow the protocols, to focus on his recovery and to keep the negativity aside, ”says the coach.

Luckily, he recovered just before the quarter-finals against Bangladesh. He was rusty in his 26-point shot, but that didn’t matter. He was back on the field. And when it mattered, in the semi-final against Australia, he showed why he was rated so highly. Shocked at 37 for 2 from 13 overs, Rasheed showed a maturity that belied his age to compose a compound 94. He and captain Yash Dhull (110) put together the tournament’s second-biggest partnership, adding 204 runs for the third wicket.

Rasheed (right) and captain Yash Dhull put together the tournament’s second-biggest partnership, adding 204 runs for the third wicket. (Photo: ICC)

Rasheed played a perfect foil for Dhull, who was scoring freely. Rasheed finished his half-century in 78 balls, and once he reached the milestone, he kicked into fourth gear and started matching Dhull blow for blow. Whether it was William Salzmann’s punch coverage or a straight six at the end of his innings against Jack Nisbet, who took him into the 90s, he demonstrated his class.

Later, his captain duly appreciated his deputy. “Rasheed is mentally very strong. We were in the bubble together after testing positive for Covid-19. He was always mentally prepared,” he said.

Perfect #3

Back home, Rao is pleased with his neighborhood’s shot and calls him the ideal No. 3 hitter. “If I’m not mistaken, he always hit at No. 3, and I don’t know the reason. He sets small goals in his mind, whether it’s T20, 50 four-day cricket overs. He can grind like a Pujara (Cheteshwar) and can smash like a Sehwag (Virender). He has all the punches. Rasheed likes to play in innings. In ODIs his goal is to stay in the crease until the 40th and after that he will go crazy,” says Rao.

Rasheed finished his half-century in 78 balls, and once he reached the milestone, he kicked into fourth gear and started matching Dhull blow for blow. (Twitter/BCCI)

It is his ward’s intelligence that loves him the most. “The kid is smart and yesterday’s kick was a perfect example of his awareness of the game. He loves to spin the strike. He could have scored the hundredth too, but he lost focus after Dhull’s unfortunate dismissal,” he adds.

“As a coach, I’m glad he’s enjoying his game and is back to his best,” he added.

At home, Rasheed’s family eagerly awaits the final and the day he returns home. “We haven’t seen him for three months. We were concerned when he tested positive. I’m glad it’s all over now, and I hope he comes home with the cup,” Balisha says. And then the father could rejoice that all the hardships he had endured were worth it.

With contributions by Sreenivas Janyala


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