Life has come a full circle for South African leg spinner Keshav Maharaj. Twenty five years ago, when the Indian team was touring South Africa for the end-of-apartheid cricket tour, the leggie managed to take a snap with the then Indian keeper Kiran More.
In the picture we can see More, in his India formal attire, with his blazer slung over his left shoulder and his right hand on the shoulder of the bare-footed two-year-old Keshav. Keshav, dressed in a blue T-shirt and matching shorts and barely reaching More’s hips, is now all set to lock horns with Indian cricketers on their 2018 tour to South Africa.
The 27-year-old is the only left-arm spinner in the South African squad for the first Test against India at Newlands in Capetown on Friday. He is certain to be part of the final playing XI, especially after his five-wicket haul in the last test against Zimbabwe, as reported in The Indian Express.
Keshav’s father Athmanand, who was the man behind the photograph, has been eagerly waiting for the day when his son would share the field with cricketers from the land of his ancestors.
The picture has always been special for Athmanand, a cricket-obsessed father, who has toiled hard and made all the sacrifices to see his son on the 22-yard.
“I recall fondly that Kiran picked up Keshav’s palm and looked at it and shook his head. After that, he mentioned that this boy will play cricket. We never looked back and Kiran’s words were prophetic,” Athmanand told The Indian Express.
Kiran More, who has gone on to chair the selection panel in India, downplayed his role in nurturing Keshav’s future. But the former Indian wicket keeper was happy to tell The Indian Expressabout the day he got a message from his old friend in South Africa.
“When Keshav was picked to play for South Africa against Australia in 2016, Atma sent me the photo and reminded me about what I had said about his son. I have been friends with the family for years, we have kept in touch,” More told The Indian Express.
But as luck would have it, it wasn’t an easy task for Athmanand to arrange the meeting.
Athmanand wanted to be among the guests from India who were slated to meet the Indian cricket team among much fanfare. Unfortunately, he was not the only one, rather the whole of Durban – which boasts of humongous Indian population – was also wishing for the same. But fate had other plans for Athmanand and his two-year old son Keshav.
“I had this friend, Ajay Gupta, who was a sailor. His grandfather had played cricket for India. He used to intermittently visit Durban. As luck would have it, when the Indian cricketers were here, he was at my home and I asked him if he knew someone in the team whom I could meet. He mentioned Praveen Amre. I think they lived in the same town. He told me if I met Amre, he should mention him,” Athmanand told the Indian Express.
Athmanand, however, realised it was not an easy job to meet Amre. But as luck would have had it, before the first test the sponsors of the series New Republic Bank threw a gala dinner for the Indian team and Athmanand’s uncle, who was an important client of the bank, got an invite.
“My uncle couldn’t go and knowing that I was playing cricket, he offered me the invitation. I was overjoyed to get there and the first thing I did was to get hold of Amre. I told him about Ajay Gupta and things started to get little easier in terms of communication. That’s also where I met Kiran for the first time. I had an interesting chat with Sachin Tendulkar and I took a photo with him, which I still have,” he told The Indian Express.
Subsequently, he got invited to other events and that’s when he hit it off with More and invited him home. Athmanand believes those meetings in the summer of 1992 shaped Keshav’s cricketing future.
But this week, as irony would have it, Athmanand won’t be in the stands at Cape Town for the first Test. A family function in Durban will force him to stay back. Yet, when Keshav takes the field against Virat Kohli’s men this Friday in Cape Town, the Maharaj family will have more than a word of thanks for the picture of the Indian cricketer in his formals with their bare feet toddler.