From tragedy to IPL glory - the inspirational tale of Rajasthan Royals pacer Chetan Sakariya

Left-arm seamer picked up 3-31 during an impressive debut against Punjab Kings

Chetan Sakariya of Rajasthan Royals celebrates the wicket of Jhye Richardson of Punjab Kings during match 4 of the Vivo Indian Premier League 2021 between Rajasthan Royals and the Punjab Kings held at the Wankhede Stadium Mumbai on the 12th April 2021.

Photo by Deepak Malik/ Sportzpics for IPL
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Rajasthan Royals came agonisingly close to pulling off an improbable victory over Punjab Kings in the IPL on Monday, with captain Sanju Samson's century garnering much of the attention.

Samson's 63-ball 119, which included 12 fours and seven sixes, took Rajasthan close to the finish line but, ultimately, four runs short. His decision to refuse a single with five needed from two balls and then perishing off the last delivery of the match has attracted criticism and support, adding the final twist to a memorable match in Mumbai.

But there was another story that unfolded earlier in the day that deserves as much attention: the debut of Rajasthan's left-arm pacer Chetan Sakariya, the 23-year-old thrust straight into the limelight bowling the first ball of the match.

The diminutive quick did not bowl with express pace or have extravagant swing, any yet ended with figures of 3-31 even as both teams scored well over 200 and established T20 bowlers like Mustafizur Rahman, Chris Morris, and Jhye Richardson went for more than 40 apiece.

But there was much more to Sakariya's performance than clever variations and immaculate control. It is his journey to one of world cricket's biggest stages in that makes it a tale for the ages.

The left-armer comes from Vartej, a small town in the state of Gujarat. He has been the sole breadwinner for his family for a few years after his father's health deteriorated. It was Sakariya's uncle who took care of his cricketing expenses, with the youngster in turn helping out handling the accounts of his uncle's stationary shop.

When Sakariya's bowling talent got spotted in 2015, he received a scholarship to train at the MRF Pace Foundation under the tutelage of Australian great Glenn McGrath, and it was senior Saurashtra team player Sheldon Jackson who gave him his first pair of proper boots.

Sakariya was part of Saurashtra's victorious 2020 Ranji Trophy team, and earlier this year, he picked up 12 wickets in five matches in the domestic Syed Mustaq Ali T20 tournament at an economy of 4.90. But the hardships weren't over.

Just a few weeks prior to the IPL auction in February, Sakariya's younger brother died by suicide. During the IPL auction, his life changed once again when Rajasthan bagged him for 12 million rupees ($160,000). His sister Jignasha said the family doesn't know whether to mourn or celebrate.

If you saw him bowl in Mumbai on Monday, you would not have seen a trace of the hardships Sakariya has endured. And that has become his strength, according to Kumar Sangakkara, Rajasthan’s director of cricket.

“I think he was just brilliant,” Sangakkara said. “His skill was on display, but it was really good to watch a bowler in such a high scoring match always smiling, and always in the game.

“He took an amazing catch at short fine leg. He bowled with the new ball, and then he bowled at the death when everyone was taking punishment.

“It speaks a lot about his skill, his attitude, and it is great to have him in the side. He is a simple guy, who has had ups and downs in life, and he is here to enjoy his cricket.

“Chetan is a young man who will have a very, very good future.”

Indian cricket is filled with stories of players overcoming personal tragedies and focusing on cricket, as it can mean a stable future for their family. Former India opener Virender Sehwag said Sakariya's story shows what cricket and IPL represents for people in the country.

"What cricket means to these young men, their families. IPL is a true measure of the Indian dream and some stories of extraordinary grit," Sehwag tweeted.