His name is Mukesh, but his favourite is Mohammed Rafi and he can listen to the song “main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya” from the movie Hum Dono on loop. He tells the Indian Express, “There is peace in this song.”
Mukesh Kumar’s journey is of any youngster from smaller cities and villages, who leave their homes, and move to the metro cities to chase their dreams, to make a life for themselves and their family.
“There are plenty like me who come from a small village, and leave their homes to chase their dreams in big cities. I had no clue about swing or seam till I joined the Bengal Ranji team. I only knew my tappa, what my initial coach back in Gopalganj had told me. Stick to your length,” he says.
Kumar moved to Kolkata in 2012 to help his father’s taxi business, which was suffering losses. But he went against the wish of his father (Late Kashinath Singh), and started playing local matches in the second league for Rs 400-500.
“My father gave me a year and if nothing happens, I will work alongside him. But he was also the one, who knew that I wanted to play cricket and when I was not picked for the Indian Army, it was his suggestion that I must come to Kolkata with him and play cricket and help him out,” recalls Kumar.
For the past eight years, Kumar has been a bulwark for Bengal. A favourite for the coaches because he can bowl longer spells and nightmare for the batters because he will not give them an inch.
Former Bengal coach, Arun Lal, shares an interesting story about Kumar. He says, “The thing that impressed me the most was his ability to bowl long spells in that probing outside off-stump line throughout the day. If you have seen Mohammed Abbas of Pakistan, he is just like him. He is not 140kmph, but he will not give you an inch. If Mukesh is bowling, you need a couple of good slip fielders.”
The secret of Kumar’s ability to bowl longer spells is his habit of training outdoors and bowl longer spells in the nets.
“I believe the more I bowl, the better I will become, I love bowling in the nets. You learn something every day. The release, the rhythm, the spot around the fourth-fifth stump line. One should do gym also but it can’t be our top priority. I always believe that a fast bowler must spend more time outdoors,” he says.
In 2014, he appeared in another trial, which changed his life. Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) was organising a ‘Vision 2020 programme,’ where he was spotted by Ranadeb Bose, former Bengal pacer and bowling coach. The trials were conducted with VVS Laxman, Waqar Younis and Muttiah Muralitharan at the helm.
Within a year, he was picked for Bengal, and his consistent performance over the years, helped him to get India A call-up against New Zealand A, where he bagged a five-wicket haul and a month later, he received his maiden India call up for the ODI series against South Africa. He went to England as a net bowler for the World Test Championship final against England and now is in the Test team for the West Indies tour.
“The couple of weeks that I spent in England was so enriching. It was a completely new experience. Until very recently, I had only bowled with SG ball, then when I was picked for India A, I bowled with Kookaburra and I had only heard about the Duke ball. When I bowled the first time I troubled all the India batsmen at the nets. The weather was also conducive for fast bowling. I got good guidance from coach Paras Mhabmrey and Shami bhaiya. Shami bhai was very particular about the length one should bowl in England. From the outside, you see Duke ball is doing its bit until you bowl yourself, you won’t be able to understand. I was acting like a child. I can’t tell you how much I was able to swing the ball,” he says.
The biggest learning from the England tour for Kumar is that a bowler must bowl in a partnership and how he was helped by Team India’s bowling coach Mahambrey to use the old ball.
“I have always been told that a fast bowler must bowl in the partnership. I saw the way Shami bhai and Siraj operated with the new ball. The second thing was how to use the old ball, how to run by hiding the ball in the other hand. It looks easy on TV but it is very difficult. It is just to create confusion in the batsman’s mind because once the ball loses its’ shine, the batter will play you easily. The trick is to create that margin of error,” he says.
In the IPL 2023 auction, Mukesh was a surprise pick with Delhi Capitals and Chennai Super Kings going on a bidding war for him and ultimately DC snapped him for Rs 5.5 crore. The money changed his life, but a couple of failures in the IPL put a question mark on his credentials with the white ball.
“I am a rhythm bowler. I remember when Arun Lal became coach of the Bengal team, he gave me chances. In the first two games, I was not finding my rhythm, I even told Akash Deep ‘I am not enjoying it’. In cricket, you must have that passion and desire, and if that’s not there, it is pointless.
“Arun Sir showed great faith in me. I got matches and performance automatically started to happen. One thing that I have learnt from my father is that one should not get carried away. You don’t waste an opportunity. When I played for India A, I took five wickets in the first match on a surface which has nothing to offer. The one that keeps pushing me is that when you have come this far don’t let it go.
“For me bowling is like life. Every ball teaches you something; you get hit for a boundary, the next ball, you get a wicket. Someday I will fall, the other I will fly that’s life.”
On his price tag, he says: “I never thought about the price tag because when I was picked, Manoj Tiwari texted me and said ‘you deserve this.’ Last year, I was with Delhi Capital as a net bowler. As a net bowler, I played two practice matches, it was a big deal for me. Ricky Ponting showed great faith in me. They have wanted me since the last season. I did well in domestic cricket, played for India A, got the chance to play in Irani trophy, then got my maiden India call-up. My graph has gone upwards, and that’s why they picked me.
“The crowd factor was there in the IPL. I had never played any match in front of a full house.”
After going for runs in the initial matches, Kumar’s Bengal teammate Mohammed Shami came to his rescue.
“We were playing GT in Ahmedabad and he told me in IPL you will go for runs. He said ‘Do your prayers everyday and prepare for the match with a mindset that you would go for 60 runs in four overs’. I laughed, but honestly, it worked. The fear of failure was gone.”
The cherry on the cake for Mukesh was when MS Dhoni told him “You had worked hard and your story is inspirational and it will inspire the youngsters and never let this stubbornness go.”
On his India call up, Mukesh says “I have reached this level because of my hard work, and I will never compromise with it. The stubbornness, the desire and that fourth stump length is the only thing I have,” he says.