JANUARY 20, 2024
India’s U19 captain at the 2024 ODI World Cup in South Africa, Uday Saharan, emerged from a family backdrop where his father, Sanjeev, an ayurvedic doctor, tended to his own shattered cricketing dreams, ensuring that his son rose to the pinnacle of the sport.
“There are uncanny similarities between Shubman Gill and Uday Saharan. Both scored heavy runs for Punjab in junior cricket, were trained at home by their cricket-crazy fathers, and shifted base to get good facilities. Shubman, the player of the tournament in the 2018 U19 World Cup, has graduated to the senior team, while Uday, who will be leading India in this year’s event, promises to follow in the footsteps of his senior.
Uday grew up in Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan, where his father, an ayurvedic doctor, used to run his own academy and introduced him to the game when he was just an infant.
“I used to carry him on my lap to the academy. I failed to become a cricketer, and I wanted my son to become one. He also showed interest from a very young age and never complained about it.”
“Sanjeev Saharan asserts that he was a talented cricketer himself, expressing the belief that had he chosen Jaipur over Udaipur, he could have potentially pursued a career in first-class cricket, representing Rajasthan.”
“After clearing the PAT (ayurvedic exam) and joining the Udaipur Centre, under the guidance of the legendary coach Arjun Naidu, a cricketing icon in Rajasthan and Rajputana, Sanjeev reflects on the limited cricketing facilities back in the 80s. Despite the acknowledgment that choosing Jaipur might have paved the way for a Ranji Trophy career, fate had other plans.”
“At the age of 11, much like Shubman Gill, Uday Saharan made a pivotal move in his cricket journey. Relocating to Fazilka, Punjab, just 80 km away from his village, Uday’s father, spurred by connections, facilitated the shift as his friend held the position of the district association’s president. The initial daily commute to Fazilka was manageable, but within a year, Uday’s talent earned him a spot in the Punjab U14 camp, leading to a significant shift. His father recalls the moment when, for the first time, Uday embarked on the journey alone to Mohali. Anxious and eager, Uday initially expressed a desire to return, prompting his father to employ clever tactics to ease the transition. However, as Uday immersed himself in the camp, embracing both the challenges and opportunities, it marked the beginning of a transformative phase in his cricketing pursuit. Notably, upon his return, Uday’s newfound enthusiasm extended beyond the cricket field, as he expressed a keen interest in joining aerobics classes for fitness—a revelation that left his father amazed.”
“Following in the footsteps of Lakhwinder Gill, who set up a cricket net in his backyard for his son Shubman, Sanjeev Saharan, much like his counterpart, created a similar practice space for his son Uday. Despite the challenging winter temperatures in Sri Ganganagar, where it can drop to 1 degree, Uday remained dedicated to his training. Sanjeev, nursing his own shattered cricketing dreams, invested countless hours instilling the love for the sport in Uday.
“In the cold winters, Uday never skipped his training sessions, showcasing a deep commitment to the sport. Sanjeev reflects on the journey, revealing Uday’s understanding that he was living his father’s dream through him. Despite the dedication, Uday would playfully taunt his father, saying, ‘Yaar papa, aap kabhi khush nahi ho sakte. Mai 100 karu ya 200 karu, aapko tab bhi lagta hai ki mai not out hi waapis aau’ (You are never satisfied with my performances; whether I score 100 or 200, you want me to remain not out). Laughter fills the air as Sanjeev shares this anecdote, capturing the unique bond between a cricket-loving father and his aspiring son.”
Uday Saharan, part of the reserves during the 2022 U-19 World Cup led by Yash Dhull, experienced a transformative phase despite not playing a game after being flown to the Caribbean due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the team. According to his father, Sanjeev, this period marked a significant shift in his son’s approach or mindset.
“The car dropped him off at 11 pm on his return, and the next day at 6 in the morning, he was ready before me to go to the academy. I asked him to take rest. He would say, ‘Papa, West Indies mein pata chala bahut kaam karna hai khud pe abhi (I have realized that I need to work a lot on my game),” recalls Sanjeev.
Yuvraj’s words of wisdom:
“There is a different confidence in him now. He has grown in stature after working with Laxman sir (VVS). The way he motivates him has made him believe that he can achieve anything in cricket,” says Sanjeev.
Uday played U-14 and U-16 from Fazilka, then moved to Bhatinda to play U-19. Despite being from a different state, Sanjeev says his son never faced any difficulties in his progress.
“I always used to narrate to him what Yuvraj Singh once said, ‘Jab tak ball bolta hai, har koi salaam karta hai’ (As long as you keep scoring, everyone will salute you). This mantra has worked for him, and now it is because of his talent that he has been made India’s captain,” says Sanjeev.
“Uday Saharan, a middle-order batsman who emulates his idol Virat Kohli, is an ambidextrous bowler. Much like Kohli, he shares an intense aversion to losing, with his father, Sanjeev, noting, ‘Haar isey bardaasht nahi hai (He can’t digest a loss). He gets really upset, be it the academy match or state matches; he always wants to win it for his team.'”
In Punjab, captain Mandeep Singh, impressed by Uday Saharan’s dedication and talent, affectionately refers to him as “changa munda” (good boy), drawing parallels with a young Shubman Gill. Recognizing Uday’s hunger for success, Mandeep predicts a bright future for him, stating, “There is hunger in his belly, and that’s what makes him different. This mentality will take him far and I am sure, he will make it big.” Mandeep was so impressed with Uday’s performance in the Fitness Test that he gifted him a bat, highlighting the promising cricketer’s potential.