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Small-town boy Das eyes the big league

Last updated on: February 06, 2008 15:38 IST

Simplicity is a virtue.

And is some cases, a pleasant surprise. In the case of Haladhar Das, it is both.

The 21-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman from Orissa/East Zone has already impressed many in his Duleep Trophy debut with a half century in each innings against South Zone -- and prior to that in the Ranji Trophy -- but is yet to get used to any kind of attention.

It is easy not to recognise him -- and this happens even to those who appreciate his efforts with the bat and behind the stumps.

Soon after his superlative 93 in the first essay, this reporter was in conversation with him when a fellow-scribe passed by. A few minutes later the scribe said he wanted to interview Haladhar but was in for quite a surprise when told that he just missed a chance.

The above example is just a case in point. The 21-year-old isn't a star yet, and may never become one because of his shy nature. But he will get his share of attention; it is his simplicity that will work in his favour.

Sample this: As a few scribes approach him for an interview on the penultimate day of the Group A tie, Das makes it clear that he will take questions only in Hindi -- for he isn't yet comfortable with the Queen's language.

In another instance, he is requested to pose for a few photographs.

Soon after he is clicked, he is eager to have a look at his own photograph. But ask him his e-mail address -- in order to mail him the pictures -- and he surprises you by saying he is yet to have one !

Having said that, for someone from a remote village (Adipur) in Dhenkanal district (Orissa) and with no familial ties in sport, it's certainly been a long and fruitful journey so far.

Haladhar left his village and came to Cuttack to play cricket. But his family, particularly his father, was against sports and wanted his son to excel in academics.

"I knew I wanted to play but my father wanted me to study. So I joined Christ College to please him and started playing," smiles Haladhar.

However, he did complete his graduation to please his father. Ask him how many marks he secured and he counter-questions, "Why do you want to know that?"

For Haladhar, who made 86 on his first class debut against Services at Cuttack in November, 2006, it has been a step ahead in each of the two seasons he has played so far.

While in his first season (2006-07) Orissa reached the Plate Division final and thereby qualified for the Super Division, in his second year (2007-08) Das saw his team being thrashed in their first two matches, score remarkable away wins in their next two and finish a creditable fourth in their group, just missing out on a semi-final berth.

And even as he excelled behind the stumps, the batsman in Das also made his mark.

A 71 in the first match against Uttar Pradesh was followed by a superlative hundred (100) in the match against Punjab -- a score that helped Orissa take a first innings lead against the hosts. That Punjab came back to win and deny Orissa a shot at the last four remains a huge regret for Das, though he is quick to give the winning team the credit.

"He (VRV Singh) bowled a few very good overs and we weren't upto it," he reasons.

However, he carried forward his form in the Duleep Trophy as well. At the end of the first day, Shiv Sunder Das wished for two things: Haladhar getting a hundred and his team getting a first innings score in the vicinity of 320.

The skipper's second wish got fulfilled. And he was denied the first by a whisker as his 'keeper fell at 93. Though disappointed, Haladhar more than made up for the miss with a fighting 54 not out in the second innings.

"It is great to score back-to-back half centuries here at the Wankhede," gushed Haladhar.

The 21-year-old, who likes Mahinder Singh Dhoni simply because "he scores so many runs coming so low in the order," the immediate goal is to improve upon his performance in the near future. And he is not even thinking of bigger things as of now.

Maybe he's being realistic. Or, maybe, just being himself -- humble and simple.

Bikash Mohapatra in Mumbai