Kolkata: A man who scores 4, 48 and 18 in the first three innings of his debut first-class season - that too against opposition like Tripura and Jharkhand - would not usually feature in these pages. But when the batsman in question is Hokaito Zhimomi, we must sit up and take note. After all, Zhimomi is from a part of India that doesn't always figure in the 'billion and counting' fans that are supposed to live and breathe Indian cricket - he's from Nagaland, a state that doesn't feature in the Ranji Trophy and sees as much cricket as, say, Tanzania.
Zhimomi, on November 2 this year, played for Assam, his adopted state, in the Ranji Trophy opener against Tripura. Assam won by 10 wickets after scoring 450 in their first innings. Zhimomi scored just four of those runs. Against Jharkhand after that, it was a much-improved performance - he scored 48 of the 179 Assam scored in their first innings in a 53-run win. "No, no, it's no good," Zhimomi tells Wisden India. "I have to score big runs if I want to have a good career. I need to be in the Indian Premier League, so that my parents and friends in Nagaland can watch me playing on TV. I played well in the first innings against Jharkhand, but if I want an IPL contract, I need to score many runs this season."
But coming from where he has, against the odds he faced in picking a career as peculiar as this one, is surely special enough? "No, you know, I gave up so much, my parents gave up so much, for me to become a cricketer," Zhimomi says in his earnest, extremely friendly way. "They encouraged me all the way, and my uncle, Kitto Zhimomi, an Income Tax Commissioner in Kolkata, helped me financially and in other ways when I moved there to play cricket seriously. I owe it to them, and to me, to do much, much better."
Indeed, when Zhimomi, now 26, started out, his parents - avowed cricket addicts - decided that if their son wanted to become a cricketer, he would get the best chance possible. "No academies, no coaches, no proper grounds â€¦ when I went to Guwahati and bought a bat for Rs 1500, everyone in Dimapur was so impressed," says Zhimomi. "But though I played cricket and my parents encouraged me, I used to play both football and cricket. I started taking cricket seriously, and thought of it as a career only when I was 13 or 14."
But how good was his best chance? Was there anyone in Nagaland, leave alone Dimapur, who was qualified to tell him if he was good enough to become a cricketer? "No one, no one at all," he says. "But my parents, who watched cricket all the time, said that they thought I had the talent."
They were evidently right. And therefore Zhimomi moved to Guwahati first, then Kolkata, where things started taking shape. He played for Gymkhana Cricket Club as a left-arm medium pacer and lower-order hitter, before moving to Kalighat Cricket Club, Dalhousie Cricket Club and Victoria Athletic Club, gradually becoming more of a batsman and less of a bowler. He was picked in the Bengal Under-19 team, where he had Manoj Tiwary and Wriddhiman Saha as teammates. "I was also studying at St Xavier's College, because my parents had asked me to return home and concentrate on my studies if my cricket career didn't work out," says Zhimomi.
So far, it has worked out, though an India cap might be a bridge too far. And Zhimomi is aware of that: "I can't think about what will happen," he says. "I need to score lots of runs this season and then hope one of the IPL teams give me a contract." Zhimomi was actually a part of Kolkata Knight Riders in the first season of the IPL, but he didn't get a game and the contract wasn't extended.
The IPL contract may or may not happen and a long, fruitful first-class career - whether for Assam or another team - is up in the air too, but there is a good chance Zhimomi could spark a revolution of sorts in Nagaland vis-Ã -vis cricket. "I hope things change in Nagaland," he says. "More kids play nowadays and we have a state team that plays the BCCI's junior tournaments. We have a cricket stadium in Dimapur. Things are starting to look bright. It's too early to say what will happen."
Sometimes, all it takes is one role model, one person to walk that unfamiliar route. For the moment though, he's out there, playing for Assam, getting ready for the next Ranji Trophy game, this time against Kerala, another of the lesser sides. That first-class average of 23.33 has to move upward, and - keeping the IPL contract in mind - a few big hits will be needed to boost the current strike-rate of 29.16. Zhimomi, however, exudes confidence when he says, "I can score quickly and have been known as a big-hitter. If I get a trial with an IPL team, I will have to make the most of the chance."