MUMBAI – Rohit Sharma's boyhood cricket coach says he will be the "richest person in the world" if the India captain lifts the World Cup — despite never charging for a training session.
Dinesh Lad, a former railway worker and cricketer, has helped mould dozens of players during a 30-year coaching career, including Rohit and India team-mate Shardul Thakur.
Lad has done this mainly while operating as the coach at the Swami Vivekanand International School in Borivali, a northwestern suburb of Mumbai far removed from the city’s famous cricket nurseries such as the Oval Maidan or Shivaji Park.
But whether they have gone on to international honours or not, all of his charges have had one thing in common.
“I never took money from anybody (for cricket). I never took money from any parent,” Lad told AFP during an interview at the school on Sunday.
Rohit, 36, is set to lead India in a World Cup semi-final against New Zealand at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday, with Lad saying: “I’m the happiest person in the world.
“And if I saw the (World Cup) trophy in his hands, then I must be the richest person in the world.”
Rohit, averaging nearly 56 at the World Cup, is the only man to have scored three double-centuries in one-day internationals.
But it was his bowling that captured Lad’s attention when he first saw the 12-year-old playing against his school team during a summer camp in May 1999.
“They were just 10-over games. They (Rohit’s side) scored about 67 in 10 overs and we chased that down in seven or eight overs.
“But in that time I saw Rohit’s off-spin — not batting — the way he bowled…in just two overs he only conceded five or six runs and took one wicket.”
Immediately impressed, Lad wanted to bring Rohit, then living with his uncle, into the school team and arranged a meeting with the director (headmaster).
“I told him ‘your nephew is very good at cricket’.
But there was a problem.
“His uncle asked me about the fees, which were 275 rupees ($3.30) per month. Immediately, he said ‘we cannot afford that’.
– ‘Very poor’ –
“So I went to the director and said to him ‘Sir the boy is very poor but he’s very talented’, please give him a freeship (the equivalent of a scholarship). And then Rohit came to this school.”
But it wasn’t until a few years later Lad realised he had a batsman on his hands.
“One day I saw a boy at the gate before training, just playing with a straight bat,” said Lad. “So I thought ‘who is this? and then I saw it was Rohit.”
Lad wasted little time in promoting Rohit to his now familiar position of opener.
“In that particular match, he scored 140. After that, there was no stopping him. He was a natural batsman, I didn’t have to teach him anything.”
Lad said that what also stood out about the young Rohit was his will to win.
“We were chasing 240 to win and were 30-4. I sent him a message, ‘you have to keep batting or we are out of the tournament’.
“So he sends a reply via the 12th man: ‘Tell Sir, don’t worry we are going to win the match’. He’s a very confident boy.”
Having been persuaded to start coaching by a friend in 1993, Lad reckons he has guided 90 players into various strands of Mumbai youth cricket and the senior Ranji Trophy team.
– ‘Second parent’ –
That list includes his son Siddhesh, now a batsman with Goa, while Shardul refers to Lad as a “second parent”.
Sunday’s session saw 22-year-old batsman Suved Parkar, who scored 252 on his first-class debut for Mumbai last year, back where it all began.
As a young cricketer Lad came under the influence of the late Ramakant Achrekar, the mentor of India great Sachin Tendulkar, and he too has received the Dronacharya Award, a national honour for sports coaching.
But with his reputation now worldwide, a video tribute from former South Africa fast bowler Makhaya Ntini, whose son Thando was coached by Lad, is an equally prized possession.
Ntini, having thanked Lad for improving the batting and bowling of Thando, himself now a paceman in South African domestic cricket, adds: “It’s been an absolute honour to see the love you are giving my son.
“You are not doing it for the sake of being a coach, you are doing it for the love of the game.”