Kings XI Punjab's Paul Valthaty celebrates his hundred against Chennai Super Kings on Wednesday.
If you could find a football equivalent for his story, Paul Valthaty would be a striker struggling to find his feet in the big league, having done it all in lower leagues, and then suddenly one fine day scoring a hat-trick for a Premier League side against one of the top guns.
Valthaty’s hundred against Chennai Super Kings would be somewhat of a fairytale, considering his only worthwhile performance in top-level cricket was a streaky 44 in a warm-up one-day game for a Mumbai Cricket Association XI (made up of reserves) against the touring England team at the Brabourne Stadium. Today was the stage he had waited for, having failed to break into Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy team and having played a solitary one-dayer for them in February 2006.
In Mumbai circles, Valthaty is a T20 legend, known from his early days for his ability to thump the ball as hard as anyone else, so much so that he’s made the format his own, both in the club and domestic circles for Mumbai.
Abhishek Nayar, his close friend and team-mate from Mumbai and Kings XI Punjab told Yahoo! Cricket, “Paul is pretty much a T20 specialist in Mumbai, and his track record in the past two-three years in almost every tournament in that format tells you that he’s done extremely well. Even in the Mumbai Cricket Association T20 Championship in 2009/10 (where Valthaty represented Payyade Sports Club), he was adjudged the player of the tournament.”
Nayar added, “It was really heartening to see him do well, given the fact that he’s seen almost all his peers make it big for Mumbai in all formats.” And even as Valthaty was the quintessential journeyman in the IPL circuit if you like, having previously represented the Mumbai and Rajasthan franchises respectively, it was on Nayar’s recommendation that the Kings XI Punjab decided to rope in Valthaty.
“After I got picked by Kings XI Punjab, I had a talk with the franchise about giving Paul an opportunity to play for them, and since the past two months, he’s been training really hard and the result is here to see. I am very happy for what he achieved today,” Nayar said.
To Valthaty’s credit, he was always earmarked by his coaches and peers for success as a stroke-player of some ability. An early graduate of the Elf Vengsarkar Academy, Valthaty was spotted through his big-scoring exploits for Don Bosco School in both the Giles and Harris Shield, and subsequently, he went on to represent Podar College in Central Mumbai, where he was a B.Com student.
Cricket, then took over and impressive show in the Vijay Merchant Trophy (national U-16s) for two consecutive seasons, with a follow up in the Cooch Behar Trophy (national U-19s) for Mumbai, earned him with an junior India cap, whom he represented in the Under-19 World Cup of 2002 in New Zealand, with the added distinction of being the only Mumbai cricketer to make that squad.
Sadly, fate had something else in store for the young lad. Opening the batting for India in a game against Bangladesh U-19s, Valthaty was batting on 5, when he was hit on the face (right eye to be precise) by a bouncer from pacer Shafaq Al Zabir and subsequently taken to the hospital and that’s when his progress was halted, and delayed.
Unfortunately, as some argue, Valthaty might have been a Mumbai cricketer born at a wrong time, given that he’s unlikely to break into the first Ranji XI anytime soon — given the strength and class of that batting order, and a faint recognition that First Class cricket might never quite be his cup of tea.
But what today’s performance at Mohali has underlined is the very the essence of anonymous talent Indian cricketers, a somewhat romantic notion that all it needs is a platform, a stage to display what we might have never seen or heard before. Go ask that boy, Paul Valthaty.