Sunil Verma was sent to Chembur Children's Home, Mankhurd, when he was barely six. His parents could not afford to bring him up and, hence, sent him to stay at the hostel. Today, the 13-year-old's life has changed for good.
Playing his maiden match of the Late Ajit Naik Memorial U-14 cricket tournament, the medium pacer took eight wickets (3-10 and 5-12) to help his team, Karnataka Sporting Association, register an innings and 10 runs win over Shivaji Park Youngsters last week.
Electing to field, Karnataka bowled out the opposition for just 55 runs in the first innings as Sunil claimed three wickets. In reply, Karnataka scored 98 before the pacer claimed five Shivaji Park Youngsters to help his team win.
Before this game, he had played two matches of the U-14 Varroc Cup in which he got three wickets. He has played in local tournaments, but the Memorial was his first selection tournament. Sunil will make his Harris Shield debut next month when he represents school, Madhyamik Vidyalaya, Mankhurd.
Surviving on scraps
The youngster is home for Diwali vacations, but isn't sure whether he will be able to burst firecrackers. "I reached home after playing a practice match but my father (Pawan) has gone out to work. I hope he comes back with some money, so that I could buy some crackers for us to burst."
Talking about his short cricket journey thus far, he said, "Till I was six, I didn't even know what a school looked like. Since my parents used to go out in search of work, I used to pass my time playing with kids in my locality and eating leftovers.
I ate just one meal in a day. It was only at the children's home that I learnt the importance of education. A bonus to it was eight months ago, when Sahil sir (former Mumbai opener Sahil Kukreja) and Ajinkya sir (his coach Ajinkya Kamble) started teaching us the nuances of cricket at the hostel's ground," said Sunil, who wants to be like his idol Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Narrating the situation at home, the Std VIII student said, "My mother Sangeeta earns a living washing utensils and my father paints walls and roads for money. Their combined earnings (around R5,000 a month) were not enough to run the household.
Hence, they put me in the children's home. I miss home badly, but I love being at the hostel as I get all the basic necessities clothes, food and education." He reckoned he could have gone astray, had he stayed home in Mankhurd.
"The kids in my locality steal people's belongings and sell them. With the money, they indulge in wrong practices like drugs, alcohol etc. The children's home is like a saviour to me. It keeps me away from the life children in my locality lead," said Sunil.
After seeing marked improvement in him, his parents even got his younger brother Anil (11) admitted to the same children's home in 2011. His younger sister Vaishnavi (6) stays with his parents.
Coach Kamble said the youngster is hardworking and has the qualities to make it big. "Cricket comes to him naturally.
His bowling action is clean, and he makes the full use of the new ball. He maintains his line and length, and that's the reason he gets wickets. He is a hard-working kid. He gives his 100 per cent when he comes for practice (10 hours a day on school holidays and five hours on normal days).
It's been just eight months that we started teaching these kids to play cricket. But, in his very first selection tournament, Sunil scalped eight wickets, which tells you something about his talent. He doesn't let his personal struggles show on the field. It is this quality that will stand him in good stead," said Kamble.