VADODARA: Australia’s cricketers are pulling out all the stops ahead of the four-Test series against India starting February 9. As part of a ‘secret’ training camp in Alur, the Aussies have flown in 21-year-old spinner and former tea seller, Mahesh Pithiya, a rare Ravichandran Ashwin ‘clone’, to prepare for some spin-friendly surfaces during the series. And,of course, prepare for Ashwin’s deadly off-breaks.
The 21-year-old Pithiya’s story, just like his bowling action, is inspiring. The son of a farm labourer from Junagadh in Gujarat, a decade ago Pithiya was struggling to buy a good pair of bowling shoes. Why just shoes, the Baroda spinner often had to buy food with borrowed money. He even worked in a tea stall at one point, serving customers to make ends meet.
Luckily, the right-arm off-spinner’s struggles appears to be in the past. For the past two days he has been staying in a plush Bengaluru hotel in the company of Australian cricketers who appear to be in awe of the fact that Pithiya appears to be a “duplicate” of Ashwin.
Interestingly, Pithiya didn’t see the star India spinner in action till he was 11 years old, in 2013.
“Due to our financial condition, I didn’t have a TV set at home. I first saw Ashwin in action live on TV at a paan stall in our town during the India-West Indies series,” Pithiya told TOI from Bengaluru.
Pithiya was spotted during a Porbandar camp by a local coach, who suggested the rookie spinner shift to Vadodara for better cricketing opportunities. “I promptly took the decision and joined Motibaug Cricket Club in Vadodara in 2014,” he said. Though he began playing official matches, the initial years weren’t easy because of financial constraints.
How are the Aussies preparing for @ashwinravi99 ahead of their upcoming Test series with India? Well, they’ve only… https://t.co/s2C25HtZM1
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The struggle was worth it, my parents are so happy: Pithiya
“I worked at a tea stall in the Fatehgunj area for more than a year. My club helped in getting new cricketing shoes and some others generously donated cricketing gear. Playing cricket during the day and working in the evening was tough, but the struggle was worth it. My parents are very happy,” Mahesh Pithiya said.
Things started to turn around when he got into the under-19 team and started earning match fees. Pithiya’s elder brother Dinesh, who shifted to Vadodara to support him, also started a small business. Pithiya recently made his Ranji debut and picked eight wickets from four matches.
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“I consider myself lucky. Throwdown specialist Pritesh Joshi sent my video to the Aussies, who picked me up. I bowl like Ashwin sir. I bowled the most to Aussie skipper Steve Smith in the last two days. He kept saying that he liked my bowling style. I did learn a few tricks from Ashwin sir’s bowling,” Pithiya said.
Tushar Arothe, Baroda Ranji’s assistant coach, said that Pithiya was very hard-working and never let his modest background or financial difficulties come in the way of his passion.
“That’s the reason he (Pithiya) was picked up for the BCCI’s emerging players’ camp last y ear and in the Baroda Ranji team this season,” he said. If Pithiya can make a good first impression, he might even get some tips from his idol Ashwin next.
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