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Santosh Saxena: Living on the Edge

Mumbai medium pacer Santosh Saxena was curled up in a corner and having forty winks when I dropped in at a Tamil Nadu Cricket Association first division league match at the Central Polytechnic - India Pistons Ground in Madras. Saxena's team Jolly Rovers were in the field so it was a bit surprising to see him so blissfully divorced from the proceedings until realisation dawned that he was sitting out the match.

One of Rovers' outstation imports, the 24 year old Mumbaikar was just sitting up and rubbing his eyes when he was abruptly beckoned onto the field as a substitute. This was the second and final day of the match, the fifth for Jolly Rovers, after which the league was going to be adjourned for a considerable while. Wandering souls like Saxena would soon be hurrying back to the nerve centre of Indian cricket to join in Mumbai's famed Kanga League which has already got underway coinciding as usual with the city's monsoons.

Saxena was part of Mumbai's 27th victorious Ranji Trophy campaign earlier in the year although he himself had a moderate rather than outstanding season, with 20 wickets at 35.75 apiece. However it was a miracle that he was playing cricket at all. Growing up in strained circumstances, Saxena was compelled to take a break from his sporting pursuits and join his mother in selling vegetables to make a living. As times changed the family fortunes looked up just enough to allow Saxena return to the game he loved and the lad's was spotted by Sanjay Manjrekar in a Kanga League match.

Called up to the Ranji Trophy nets for a trial before the state selectors, Saxena created a favourable impression and was drafted into the Mumbai Ranji team. This was three seasons ago and he has steadily climbed the rungs of the ladder to break into national recognition since. His most important contribution to Mumbai's title triumph this season came in the Ranji Trophy semi final against Tamil Nadu when he joined Sachin Tendulkar at the precarious position of 472/9 with 14 still needed to grab the first innings lead. Saxena recalls that all Tendulkar told him was "free hoke khelna, match apun jeet jayenge, sirf ekdum normal rehna" (Play freely. We are going to win the match. Just play your normal game). And remarkably he survived twelve torrid deliveries to add 18 runs with Tendulkar, of which Saxena's own share was precisely nil.

There was one raucous shout for leg before which Tamil Nadu seamer Sadagopan Mahesh raised against him and his hair must have been on end as the umpire turned it down. Saxena claimed with a twinkle in his eye that he had inner edged the ball, so the appeal was not really warranted. In those few minutes in the middle, Saxena lived life on a 'knife's edge, mirroring his own personal tribulations. And just as he emerged successfully from that trial, so too has he dealt with equanimity with life's adversities. Truly a remarkable man.

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Santosh Saxena

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