Four years ago, when Delhi’s rising teenage cricketer Rounak Waghela was scolded by his teacher over his poor homework and hand-writing, the then 11-year-old had got so disheartened that he threatened to leave school and focus solely on cricket.
Today, the left-arm spinner and left-handed batsman, who turned 15 on December 9, is the skipper of Delhi under-16 cricket team. He created waves, representing Delhi under-19s only as a 14-year-old in November. He performed as well, picking five-wicket hauls and scoring runs. Soon after his assignment with the under-19s – as Delhi failed to advance to the semis – he joined the under-16 team and has led it to the last quarter-finals.
“He always insisted that he wanted to leave school and only play cricket. But we, especially his mother, always insisted that he should focus on studies,” recalls father Devaram Waghela, who teaches mathematics to groups of students in west Delhi’s Raghubir Nagar, where he also stays.
Rounak reached the end of his patience on the day his teacher dismissed his homework, calling it bad and questioned his handwriting.
He broke down that night and told his parents that he will never go to school again.
“He kept crying until he went to bed. We spoke to the teacher and asked him to let Rounak do whatever he wanted to. We asked them to cooperate a bit because he was really keen on playing cricket,” says Waghela senior.
The parents managed to convince the teacher but Rounak resisted.
A bit of cajoling, and a talk of honour at stake somehow convinced the boy to return to school.
“I had to explain to him that kids in the mohalla will get wrong impression if he drops out of school. I and my wife told him it will be an embarrassment for a teacher like me if his son were to drop out of school and affect my reputation and coaching centre,” says Waghela senior, who is from Ahmedabad but came to Delhi in 1992 as his father and the now deceased brother were living here.
The boy went to school and with the green signal from teachers continued to focus on cricket.
“I practice all seven days of the week — at Venkateshwara Academy in sector 10, Dwarka for four days and in Paschim Vihar for the remaining three days,” says Rounak speaking to the Patriot.
“I have been enjoying my game, right from childhood. Here also, it is khel-kood (fun and play), so I don’t miss the fun. I enjoy it. The more we enjoy, the better it is,” adds Rounak before saying that he takes both batting and bowling seriously.
Rounak picked 21 wickets at 16.85 apiece in five Cooch Behar games, taking two five-wicket hauls. He aggregated 136 runs in seven innings at an average of 19.42.
“I played my first match against Jharkhand which was my debut match of Cooch Behar Trophy (under-19 tournament). I got great experience. I took five wickets across two innings,” he recalls of the match in November.
In that Cooch Behar debut game, which was Delhi’s third of the season, he made 32 off 77 balls to help Delhi score 295 at the Capital’s Karnail Singh Stadium. He then picked 1/11 in the first and 4/24 in the second innings to help Delhi score an innings and 30-run win.
The performance helped him retain his place in the squad for the next game against Kerala. He made valuable contributions in succeeding matches. Against UP, his 5/74 and 41 helped Delhi take 56-run lead. Then, his 5/18 helped Delhi skittle out Punjab for 103 in second innings as Delhi overturned a 43-run first innings deficit to win the match by just one wicket. Even in that chase of 147, he contributed a valuable 25.
Rounak had been selected in the state under-19 squad when he was just 14 years 279 days. He made the above-mentioned Cooch Behar debut just 20 days short of his 15th birthday.
“We saw the confidence level and maturity, as well as the fact that he had consistent line and length as a bowler and could bowl at one spot for long periods,” says Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) joint secretary, Rajan Manchanda, of the talent.
Rounak had been prepping for big league for quite some time. He had been scoring consistently in DDCA league over the past two years while playing for Golden Eagle.
“We wanted him in the set-up last year itself. But the under-14 tournament did not happen last year. So, we tried to get him into under-16s. But he was just 13 and a half, and was thus ineligible,” adds Manchanda.
However, after turning 14 in December, 2021, Rounak got an opportunity to be in the reckoning for under-16s this year. He appeared in the trials ahead of the 2022-2023 season.
Super show in trials
He played just one match in the trials — where everyone was supposed to play three — scoring 257 and taking three wickets in that game. That performance earned him a call-up for the under-19s just after a few days.
“I was picked for only Delhi under-16 squad and was playing in an under-16 tournament in Chandigarh for the DDCA team. I was in the standbys for Delhi under-19. Then, I was called up for the third match. I was a bit surprised too. But I have been used to playing with senior cricketers in DDCA league,” adds Rounak.
His coach, Devdatt Baghel, who runs the Venkateshwara Academy and the Golden Eagle Club, for which he plays, was the one who pushed Rounak to the deep end.
“I used to play young cricketers in the senior tournaments. I never used to think of winning, but only to give exposure to my wards,” says Baghel to Patriot. Baghel took up coaching in 2005 and Rounak came to him in 2012.
“When I first went to the academy, I was just 4.5 to five years. Kids never used to be this young there. My older brother (cousin) Kush requested them to take me. Otherwise, they never used to take such young players,” adds Rounak.
“At that time, kids around 7-8 years of age used to be with me. Initially, I used to play with soft ball (rubber ball). Then when I turned eight, I began playing with the leather ball,” he says further.
The left-armer started playing local private tournaments from a very young age and graduated to DDCA league.
“I have been playing DDCA league for the last two years. My performance has been quite good. Prior to that, I used to play inter-club tournaments all over Delhi – whether they were under-14, under-16 or under-19, I used to play them all. In fact, I still play them. My (cousin) brother also plays, we go together and return together. I used to be a medium pacer. But then sir (Devdutt) emphasised on spin and made me a left-arm spinner. I got results in that so I became a left-arm spinner. At the moment, I have no role model,” explains Rounak.
Thrown into deep end
The initial induction into the DDCA league was a bit tough but it helped in developing confidence.
“When I first played the league, I realised that there is competition and I have to give my all. The performance was satisfactory. I improved gradually,” he explains.
His father and mother never wanted him to play with the seniors as they thought it will be tough for him to adjust. But coaches Devdutt and Ashok convinced the parents that he is good enough.
“We didn’t want him to play in the under-19s when he was on the verge of getting selected for the Delhi team this season. But they said, he can play,” says Waghela senior, who has been teaching mathematics since 2007.
“They used to say that he has spark and can play. He will play all cricket, don’t fear.”
Education is important, says the dad but he is fine with the fact that Rounak will play only cricket going forward.
At the moment, he is leading the under-16 team.
In the pre-quarterfinal match held last week, he put up an impressive all-round show, taking eight wickets – including six for 36 – and scoring 106 in first innings. Delhi thrashed Himachal Pradesh by 428 runs to enter last eight of Vijay Merchant Trophy.
Rounak, after finishing his Delhi under-19s assignment on December 20, flew straight to Vadodara for the last Delhi under-16s group game, against Chhattisgarh, that had commenced on December 21.
“I want to play,” he says.
But once the season is over, he will be back to studies as class 10 board exams loom.
It helps that the father is a teacher and helps him in preparation at his institute.
“The season ends in February. I have told him to get 50% in exams. The school (Saraswati Bal Mandir) has agreed to give him extra classes. I want him to complete 12th but once he is done with it, I know he will only play cricket,” adds Waghela senior.