From Surinder Khanna to Rishabh Pant, Tarak Sinha was Ustadji for several generations of Delhi cricketers


The death of Indian cricket’s most unknown coach, Tarak Sinha, has rekindled memories. He was 71 years old and had been in pain for a while. I had known him for almost five decades and spent countless hours talking about cricket with him. Most of the time, the conversation was about his famous students, whose careers I had followed closely since they were juniors.

For Sinha, it all started in 1969. While a budding wicket-keeper at the Birla government school in Kamla Nagar (Delhi), he had failed to find a place in the last 16 of the team. ‘State CK Nayudu. This team was led by Salman Khurshid, who would become a prominent congressional politician.

This first selective snub would see a teenage Sinha make a wish. Early on, he knew Delhi needed a training center where the capital’s less privileged cricket-crazed kids, mostly from public schools like him, could get top-level supervision. “I made a vow to strive to provide the best play facilities for boys in public schools,” he told me when I first met him over 45 years ago. years.

The simple motive of providing a level playing field for young cricketers from all walks of life led to the formation of the Sonnet Club, which resulted in an organic expansion of Delhi’s talent pool. Those who could not afford to enroll in prestigious academies now had their own club. Over time, the Sonnet Club would become a reputable institution for producing battle-ready cricketers. And all of them, even after climbing the high ranks, would never forget to pay homage to their Ustadji, Tarak Sinha.

With such a wealth of experience, Sonnet had a collective brain that a few academies across the country could match. (TO FILE)

Among Indian cricketers who would call Sonnet their home and Sinha their Ustadji are late 1970s cricketer Surinder Khanna, 65, and the country’s most recent superstar, 24, Rishabh Pant. Other members of the Sonnet International Hall of Fame are Manoj Prabhakar, the late Raman Lamba, Ajay Sharma, Sanjeev Sharma, Ashish Nehra, Aakash Chopra and Shikhar Dhawan. Indian women’s team captain Anjum Chopra is another who calls the club their alma mater.

With such a wealth of experience, Sonnet had a collective brain that a few academies across the country could match. The reason the witness has passed from generation to generation is the club culture rooted in Sinha. Most of the former cricketers used to visit the club nets regularly to share their experiences with young people. Thus, Prabhakar could point out the flaws of Nehra. And years later, Nehra was able to sit Pant down and make him understand what it takes to play for India. Such was the loyalty of the club that former Ajay Sharma and KP Bhasker took their sons to Sinha and he put them on the path their fathers had taken.

For Sinha, the Sonnet Club was her world. His contributions to the club often extended beyond those of time and talent. His star goalkeeper Prabhakar once told me: “There were occasions when he paid his entire month’s salary to keep the club running smoothly.”

Sinha would also ensure that her wards get their due and that their talent is recognized. I still remember the time when Sinha would talk about the talent of Aakash Chopra, Ashish Nehra and Shikhar Dhawan and tell me to “watch out for them in the days to come”. Sinha was almost never wrong, he had a knack for spotting talent.

Dozens of Sinha interns continue to represent various states on the national circuit. The club have fielded several of its members in the U-22, 19, 16 and 14 age group tournaments in Delhi. The Sonnet Club which was started on the grounds of the Birla school with around 20 trainees and rudimentary facilities moved into the city. With Sinha struggling to hold onto a pitch, the club after moving to Ajmal Khan Park (Karol Bagh), DCM pitch, PG DAV College (where Sinha worked as a clerk), Rajdhani College; is now at Venkateshwara College on the South Campus.

Not just cricket training, player rehabilitation has been a strong point for Sinha over the past decades. Unable to find a place in the Delhi-19 team, Nehra almost left the match in depression. It was Sinha who had left arm playmaker playing in many summer tournaments and his performances got him called up for Ranji’s tryouts.

Prabhakar’s first big break came when he was picked to play for India in a tournament in Sharjah. At pre-camp in Delhi, a senior member of the team told Prabhakar that if he doesn’t change his bowling action, he won’t get far. A downcast Prabhakar sought advice from Sinha. Sinha told her intern, “You get wickets because of your unusual action. Don’t change it. Prabhakar has stayed true to his natural style of bowling and garnered many wickets throughout his international career.

Besides the Sonnet Club, Sinha has also enjoyed success as the Ranji Trophy coach for several states. Sinha himself has never sought any awards for his efforts although he was awarded the Dronacharya Prize a few years ago.

Delhi and its cricketers will be sorely missed by such a selfless cricketer. Like many famous coaches across the country, Sinha was no wonder for a student. He had an assembly line that never stopped rolling out cricket champions.

(A seasoned cricketers journalist, the writer has widely followed Delhi cricket for nearly four decades while working for The Indian Express)

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