Former Kabaddi player’s first-touch worth five scalps

Three years ago HS Sharath was a passionate kabbadi player in Hosagavi, a village in Mandya district of Karnataka, with aspirations to represent India. When tennis-ball cricket matches were played, the tall and well-built Sharath would chance his arm.

During one such game, a local coach spotted the 16-year-old with a fast bowler's physique and convinced him to give cricket a shot. Sharath agreed to join the Vidyaranya Cricket Club at Mandya where he also enrolled as a college student. Mandya is five kilometres from Hosagavi and there were days when Sharath had to walk back home because classes, followed by cricket practice and then a session in the gymnasium resulted in him missing the 6.45 pm bus, the last on that particular route.

There wasn't too much money to go around in the household as Sharath's father Shivalingaiah, an autorickshaw driver in Bangalore, struggled to make both ends meet.

After Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun both pulled out injured, Sharath was fast-tracked into the playing eleven. On Saturday, Sharath, now 19, started his Ranji career in spectacular fashion with a five-wicket haul on his first-class debut for Karnataka against Uttar Pradesh at the Bhamashah Stadium in Meerut.

Karnataka elected to field on a wicket which helped fast bowlers generate sufficient movement and Uttar Pradesh were reduced to 40 for four. Sharath generated outswing to the right-handed batsmen and southpaws Ali Murtaza, opening the innings in place of injured Tanmay Srivastava, and Suresh Raina were beaten by deliveries that angled back into them. Parvinder Singh was dismissed by Sharath's away-moving delivery. In his first eight overs of Ranji cricket, Sharath had three wickets. At the other end captain Stuart Binny sent back Mukul Dagar, the opener who came into this game with back-to-back centuries.

It took the experience of Mohammad Kaif, a veteran of 125 first class games, to quell the charge of debutant Sharath. Coming out in the fourth over, Kaif was dismissed only in the second-last over of the day for 122. In his five-hour and 16-minute stay at the wicket, Kaif didn't play a single false stroke.

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