Cricket: From country boy to record-breaking batsman

Mohit Ahlawat
Mohit AhlawatPHOTO: CRICKETTROLLS.COM

NEW DELHI • His world- first 300-run knock in a Twenty20 match at a suburban Delhi cricket ground has become a global sensation, but Mohit Ahlawat is still a little bemused by the attention. It is not the first record-breaking score the 21-year-old has posted in the game's shortest form.

"In the last tournament I played in the Delhi district league, I scored 224 not out," he says. In another recent tournament, in Ghaziabad, he posted a casual 139.

The first of those easily eclipses the current professional record of 175 not out, scored by the West Indies' Chris Gayle in an Indian Premier League (IPL) match in Bangalore in 2013.

Australia's Aaron Finch holds the record for the highest score in a T20 international after hitting 156 against England in 2013.

Sri Lankan Dhanuka Pathirana held the previous best T20 score in the world, having hit 277 off 72 balls in a local Lancashire T20 league match in 2007.

CALM UNDER PRESSURE

I was just cool. I thought I could do it. I told myself: just try to hit it on time. I try to enjoy my batting, try not to think too much.

MOHIT AHLAWAT, who needed 34 runs in the final over of the local cricket match to reach a triple ton and got exactly that.

"I didn't think I'd get so much media coverage," says Ahlawat.

"It feels great, all the news channels have come to the ground to interview me."

The softly-spoken batsman and wicket-keeper says his secret is quickly finding his flow. "I wasn't nervous," he says, entering the final over on 266 runs, seeing a triple century in sight.

"I was just cool," he says with a laugh. "I thought I could do it. I told myself: just try to hit it on time. I try to enjoy my batting, try not to think too much."

The scorecard tells the tale of that final over: 4, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6. In all, Ahlawat, playing for Maavi XI, smashed 300 off 72 balls, included 39 sixes and 14 boundaries, against Friends XI in the local Friends Premier League match, which is not recognised by the Delhi and District Cricket Association.

The Lalita Park ground in East Delhi is particularly small, it is roughly a 60m x 40m patch with a 30-metre boundary behind the batsman - in comparison, regular-sized international cricket grounds measure at least 75m x 70m.

But this time his total was enough to put Ahlawat on the radar of the Delhi Daredevils, the IPL side that called him up for a trial on Wednesday after news of the knock spread.

Should he be selected in forthcoming player auctions, Ahlawat will be playing on pitches and in front of crowds a universe away from the patches of grass in Panipat where, growing up, he and his friends would play cricket each Sunday.

"It wasn't a cricket ground," says Ahlawat, who hails from a family of farmers. "But every Sunday the kids used to call me to play, and my father bought me a cricket kit, so I started playing with that."

People in the town noticed his talent. "Everyone used to say I was quite a good player, that I played a bit differently," he says, but his big-swinging style also needed tempering before he could face better quality bowlers.

"When I was a kid, I didn't really know how to hit the ball in the right way. I'd get out a lot," he says.

Like so many young Indians in the rapidly urbanising country, at 17, Ahlawat moved to the city chasing bigger opportunities.

"My father told me it was better I go and join a club in Delhi, that I won't be able get anywhere in cricket from Panipat," he says.

Alongside his studies at Delhi University, he joined one of the city's most esteemed cricket clubs, the LB Shastri Cricket Academy. There he was coached by Sanjay Bhardwaj, who also oversaw the international career of former Indian opener Gautam Gambhir.

Bhardwaj told the Indian media he was delighted by Ahlawat's feat. He said: "He hasn't had anything easy in life. He is a farmer's son and has had to struggle to follow his dream of playing cricket."

Ahlawat is facing his sudden surge of fame the same way he does bowlers: coolly, focusing on one ball at a time. "I haven't really thought about the future," he says.

"Last year I was dropped from the Delhi team for the Ranji Trophy after only three matches (and scoring five runs in five innings). I was lacking confidence. Maybe now they'll take me back?"

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 12, 2017, with the headline 'From country boy to record-breaking batsman'. Print Edition | Subscribe