Back with a 'Bang'!

Always under-rated, this shy but dependable all-rounder suddenly shot into the limelight after his recent match-winning knock against the Windies. On the day the team left for the New Zealand tour, ANJALI DOSHI paid a visit to SANJAY BANGAR'S house and came away charmed by the modest cricketer and his supportive family.

The train chugs into Wadala Road station on a sleepy Saturday afternoon. The address is as unassuming as its famous resident in the nondescript Antop Hill building; a taxi ride and a few strides later we arrive at Sanjay Bapusaheb Bangar's doorstep.

The door is wide open and we notice the plethora of shoes that line the foyer. The lanky all-rounder has visitors who have travelled a long way from the Bangars' native Beed district, incidentally Sanjay's birthplace, to wish the 30-year-old a safe journey to New Zealand. The television is tuned to the replay of the India-England Test in Mohali last year, and Sanjay's visitors in dhotis and topis have crammed the sofa set in the living room.

Sanjay's father makes sure everyone is as comfortably accommodated as possible, even as wife Kashmira bustles about the two-bedroom-hall-kitchen ensuring nobody goes hungry. Sanjay's blue-eyed boy Aryan walks about aimlessly with a mini-bat in hand, looking for someone to bowl to him. His doting grandfather obliges the two-year-old, as we wait for Sanjay to wake up from his afternoon nap.

Rubbing the sleep off his eyes, Sanjay walks into the living room in blue tracks and a striped 'tee'. It is easy to see that the gritty Indian all-rounder, devoid of any flashy airs, is a simple family man. Being the talk of the nation after his blistering match-winning 57 in Ahmedabad against the Windies last month, has not added an arrogant strut to his down-to-earth demeanour. "I think I just took everybody by surprise as that innings, in the context of the match, was completely unexpected," he says, reminiscing of his heroics in the historic 325-run chase.

Sanjay's has been a story of struggle. Never one to brag about his contributions, he is the least flashy of all the current Indian cricketers, on the field and more off it. When he was denied a place in the Mumbai team, he continued to silently toil away like a diligent mason until he was ultimately offered a berth in the Railways side in 1993. It took many more years of toil, sweat and rickety rail journeys across the country until he broke into the India side against England in the Test series last year. Sanjay sustained a nasty injury while fielding but played a characteristic innings, the first of those gritty knocks that he has come to be personified by.

It all began with India's momentous victory in the '83 World Cup. "My first memory of cricket dates back to the '83 World Cup when I was about 11. We were sitting on the steps outside our flat and peeking into our neighbour's living room as we did not have a TV. After we won that final, I decided I wanted to become a cricketer," laughs Sanjay, even as he flits back to the present, when we remind him that life has come a full circle as he will be a key member of the South Africa-bound World Cup squad.

But Sanjay has not forgotten his roots. He is visibly upset that the Railways lost to Bengal in the Ranji tie, and even in all the mayhem of packing for the New Zealand tour, he kept abreast of the score with Railways coach Kamlesh Gupta through SMS. "I had some of my best times with Railways," he says smiling as he adds, "I used to watch a lot of movies in Delhi because we had so much time on our hands. Now, all that has changed." Wife Kashmira smiles reflectively as the husband-wife duo watch their restless son. "Now-a-days, with the schedule being as busy as it is, I just want to spend as much time as I can with him," says Sanjay, scooping up young Aryan off the mosaic flooring.

THREE'S COMPANY: Sanjay Bangar with wife Kashmira and two-year-old son Aryan. The couple met when the Bangar family was in considerable duress. Sanjay's mother, a beautician by profession, was in the second stage of lung cancer. Determined to see her older son married before she passed away, she sent Sanjay's bio-data through his dad to a common friend. Coincidentally, the friend received Kashmira's bio-data through her father a day later. Playing matchmaker, he set up a brief 10-minute meeting in the Bangar household and 20 days later, the couple was wed! Nine months after the monsoon wedding in July '99, Sanjay's mother passed away, bequeathing all the household duties and the beauty parlour to 22-year-old Kashmira, who "did not know the ABC of cricket," till she married Sanjay.

"Even now, I only watch a match when Sanjay is in action, but we never discuss cricket. He has hardly been at home since last year so when he's here, the last thing he wants to do is discuss cricket," says Kashmira, as she attends to the beckoning phone ring.

In less than an hour, Sanjay will catch the flight to Kolkata enroute to New Zealand. He is upbeat about his second tour abroad after a fighting performance in trying English conditions a few months ago. "I would rate that knock at Headingley as my best. The Test century versus Zimbabwe is another memorable one," he says. We ask him how he motivates himself each time he walks to the crease to open the batting in Tests. "When I get to the crease, I keep talking to myself. Keep saying to myself, 'Watch the ball, watch the ball'." Sanjay says he has never cared for the reputation of the opposition bowlers. "A Shane Bond or a Simon Doull does not worry me. All I care about is my batting. When the going gets tough, I just know I have to fight," says the philosophical cricketer who is an avid reader of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose and cricketing texts.

Though satisfied with his batting performances, Sanjay is hoping the New Zealand tour will provide the ideal platform for him to showcase his bowling. "In both the Tests and the One-Dayers, I have not bowled all that much. I really want to contribute with my bowling on this tour," he says with determination. "Hopefully New Zealand will do it for me," says the oft under-rated cricketer quietly.

Sanjay's younger brother Santosh has arrived and it will soon be time to leave for the airport. Wishing him luck, we leave the shy cricketer to spend a few quiet moments with his family before he departs on the 47-day tour to "fight it out" with the Black Caps.