Five years ago, when he was playing at the under-14 level for Noida Wonders in a tournament at St Stephen’s Ground in Delhi, Innesh Mahajan played two knocks — 87 against Telefunken and 85 against Sonnet – that earned him Player of the Match awards.
Proudly carrying the two trophies, Innesh went to nets to his coach Phool Chand Sharma who, in a fit of anger, slapped him.
“You were dismissed for 87 with 10 overs remaining and for 85 with 13 overs left. You should have gone on to score centuries on both occasions. Come to me when you score a century,” Sharma yelled at the left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman, who was last week included in the India under-19 squad for the World Cup to be played next year in South Africa.
Innesh went on to score five centuries and a double in the next tournament, in Ghaziabad.
“Innesh has scored heavily in local cricket. When he was playing for the local club, Wonders Cricket Club, the talk in the town was that if you get him out, you will get half the team out,” says Sharma, who has been training Innesh since the wicketkeeper-batsman was six years old at Noida’s Billabong High International School, where the 18-year-old also studies.
This will be the third under-19 World Cup edition in recent times that a player from Sharma’s stable will feature in the India team.
Shivam Mavi featured in the 2018 edition, Dhruv Jurel in 2020 and now Innesh Mahajan. Sharma is also the coach of Harsh Tyagi, who featured in the under-19 Asia Cup in 2018 and is representing Delhi this year.
“He was six when he came to me. Since then, I have been training him at my academy. He scored a century for Himachal Pradesh on debut in under-14 Dhruv Pandove Trophy. He also scored a century on debut in under-16 for Himachal Pradesh and then followed it up with a 250+ for the hill state on his under-19 debut.”
Although he was included in the Indian squad that toured UAE for the under-19 Asia Cup and lost in the semi-finals to Bangladesh on December 15, he didn’t manage to get a single game.
Even in the three matches he played in the Quadrangular U-19 Series for India A under-19s (one of two India under-19 teams in the competition), he got to bat only once and picked four catches behind the stumps, including three in one game.
However, a triangular series in South Africa ahead of the World Cup will most likely see him play as it will act as a warm-up in the lead-up to the tournament. The tri-series will take place from December 29 to January 10 while the World Cup begins January 19 and runs till February 11.
Father Nischal Mahajan credits Innesh’s success to his mother who encouraged him to take all sports.
“There was nothing pre-planned. His mom was instrumental in exposing him to different sports. His interest in cricket grew. That is how he picked it and started going to the academy,” says Mahajan, who is employed with a business school.
“He has received a lot of support from the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) and has featured in various age-group tournaments,” adds Mahajan.
The left-hander has also attended elite coaching camp with the National Cricket Academy besides representing one of India’s two sides in the Quadrangular U-19 Series mentioned above.
“There has been a lot of support from the school. Since he was playing a lot of matches right from junior days, he had to skip many classes. The school gave him the rope. But he is doing fine academically, securing 70-75%. There is a time before exams, a one-month period, which he devotes to studies,” added the father.
Innesh himself credits his parents, school and coach for the success.
“Their backing has been of immense help,” he said.
In the DDCA league he has represented Delhi Wonders, while playing in the NCR region he has represented Wonders Cricket Club of Noida.
The Indian team have been clubbed with Bangladesh, Ireland and USA in Group A and will start their World Cup campaign on January 20.