By Peter Della Penna
One of America’s youngest and brightest talents is going to be on display this weekend at the USACA Western Conference Tournament in Minneapolis, Minn. Abhijit Joshi will represent the Central East Region and the 16-year old from the Chicago suburb of Aurora, Ill., already has quite a reputation.
“I really think that he is one of the standout young players in this country,” said Steve Massiah, captain of the USA Men’s National Team. “He’s a very level-headed young man. To be quite honest, I’m a big fan of his and I have a lot of expectations for him.”
Joshi flew onto the world cricket radar in 2008 with some jaw-dropping performances at the CLICO International U-15 Cricket Championships in the West Indies. Joshi was one of two Americans selected in a team representing the Americas region, which also included players from Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, against teams from Kenya, Netherlands, Ireland, Malaysia, West Indies, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
While the Americas team finished dead last, Joshi was fifth overall in runs scored at the tournament, including four half-centuries in only six innings, as he finished behind two players each from the West Indies and Pakistan. The two teams wound up being the champions and runner-up in the tournament respectively and all four batsmen ahead of him played in two more matches than Joshi.
Pic: Abhijit Joshi
His class stood out most against Pakistan. While Americas was bowled out for 123 and lost by 293 runs, Joshi posted his highest score of the tournament with a 70 opening the batting for the Americas. The next best score from any of his teammates was 8.
One would think that Joshi must have been born with a cricket bat in his hand much like Wayne Gretzky was playing with an ice hockey stick before he could walk. Not exactly, says his father Chidambar. Joshi senior is the Youth Development Coordinator for the Central East Region, but according to him, Abhijit’s development began with a moment of serendipity.
Abhijit was born in Bangalore, India, and was brought to America when he was only five months old, so he didn’t really grow up around cricket. A family friend from India bought Chidambar a set of toy stumps and a cricket kit for Abhijit to use, but they were gathering dust in America until one day fate intervened when the boy was seven years old.
“Somebody gifted us this kit thinking that he will like it,” said Chidambar. “After coming here for awhile, I stopped playing cricket and I had put the kit in the closet. One day, Abhijit was feeling very bored and he didn’t know what to do.” So he took Abhijit to the closet and started digging around for ideas until they found a piece of buried treasure. “I suddenly saw that kit and I asked him, would you like to try cricket and he said why not. Then we went and started playing outside and the kids outside watching us, they came. They happened to be Indian kids as well. Before I knew it those boys parents came and joined.”
In 2002, Chidambar co-founded the Cricket Sporting Academy in Chicago to create more opportunities for the youth of the area to get involved in the game. But before those opportunities were available, Abhijit kept himself busy playing soccer, tennis and table tennis.
He was particularly skilled at table tennis, winning a title at a Killerspin event in Chicago. Killerspin is one of the biggest table tennis equipment manufacturers in America and is headquartered in Chicago. According to the USA Table Tennis web site, Joshi has a career record of 29-11 in major tournaments. His best performance came at the Schaumberg (Ill.) RR Open in February of 2004, where he went 11-0.
“Anything with a bat and ball that required hand-eye coordination, he was always very good,” said Chidambar. But it didn’t take too long to decide that the bat and ball game Abhijit loves most is cricket.
“I think cricket 24/7, I breathe it, everything I do is for cricket,” said Joshi. “I eat for cricket. I sleep for cricket. I wake up, I work out for cricket. Everything is for cricket.” Joshi gradually scaled back on the other sports to focus his time on cricket, training with his father at the CSA and it has paid off.
He was the captain of Team USA’s U-15 squad last year at the ICC Americas U-15 Tournament in Bermuda, where the team finished second to Canada. Joshi was first selected to the Central East Region U-19 squad as a 13-year old in 2006 and worked his way up to become captain of the squad this past May at the National U-19 Tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y. His performances earned him selection as a First Team All-American and a trip to Toronto for the ICC Americas U-19 Regional Qualifier in the beginning of July where the USA once again finished second to Canada.
“I think Abhijit has a lot of potential,” said Akhtar Masood “Chik” Syed, Representative for the Central East Region on the USACA Board of Directors. “He is a very good cricketer. I think we are really fortunate in the Central East Region that we’ve got this kid. This kid’s going to be going all the way. His technique and his devotion to the game, you should see the guy plays six, seven days a week in his basement and in the winter, summer, rain, he never misses practice. He has a very good cricket mind.”
Pic: Abhijit Joshi with Brian Lara during the Clico World Cup tourney
After meeting him in person and watching him play, one gets to know that Joshi’s handshake is as strong as his pull shot. He is a big and well built teenager at 5’9” and is still growing. Part of that growth in cricket was visiting his roots to improve his game. In 2007, Joshi attended a camp in India at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore which served to accelerate his cricketing education.
“I learned a lot from the coaches,” said Joshi, “My fitness level increased because you’d run every day, long distances, short sprints, everything we did. My batting too, I worked on my patience a lot there. I played a lot of games there and the coach taught me patience and to stay at the wicket.”
Despite all of Joshi’s success, his parents hardly ever get to see him play because they are still busy raising his six-year old brother Aditya, not to mention being tied up with their work commitments. This makes it just about impossible to travel long distances around the country and the world to follow him in tournaments, which at first made his mother uneasy.
“A couple of years back I was slightly scared to send him alone and all that, but now I’ve gotten used to this,” said Radha Joshi, his mother. “I know that he can manage everything very well on his own.”
According to Chidambar though, even when their son is close by and playing local cricket for Youngsters CC in the American Cricket Conference, they are reluctant to come by because they are superstitious about affecting his play.
“Every time here locally whenever my wife came to see, we’d keep hearing about Abhijit, we thought let’s go see,” said Chidambar. “Every time she walks into the field he is getting out or he gets out next ball. So she’d say, ‘I don’t believe any of you. I don’t think he’s a good player. Every time we get here he gets out!’”
True to their word, they stayed home this past weekend and Joshi scored a century for Youngsters to be in good form heading into the USACA Western Conference Tournament in Minneapolis. Joshi finished with 121 off only 81 balls vs. Naper United. He is looking forward to testing himself against some of the best players in the nation and giving himself an opportunity to stamp his authority once more after some missed opportunities with the USA U-19 squad in Toronto earlier this month.
“I got one chance in the first game. I didn’t do too well. I got a good start but I threw away my wicket,” said Joshi, referring to his 29 in the first match of the ICC Americas U-19 Regional Qualifier against Bahamas. “Hopefully, I look forward to getting more chances and making the US proud and helping the team out.” With cricket growing day by day in the United States, Joshi will definitely get plenty of opportunities to make his country proud. The captain of the national team is by him 100 percent.
“I think he has a good head for the game and he has a very, very solid technique,” said Massiah. “Most importantly, he keeps it simple and for his age he seems to understand his game very well. I really do expect for him in the future to go on and achieve great things for this country.”
Pictures appear courtesy of Chidambar Joshi