The now forgotten Paul Valthaty still playing cricket to meet ends

The now forgotten Paul Valthaty still playing cricket to meet ends

Valthaty lived the dream, if not for an eternity, but for that one night in Mohali.

Paul Valthaty
Kings XI Punjab batsman Paul Valthaty. (Photo by PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Paul Valthaty was one of the umpteen talents which got recognised through the Indian Premier League. Valthaty, playing for Kings XI Punjab in 2011, lit the Mohali stadium with a stupendous unbeaten 120 to deflate the eventual champions of the season, Chennai Super Kings.

Valthaty spent almost a decade in the wilderness between 2002 and 2011. Rewind to 2002, Valthaty was representing India in the U-19 World Cup along the likes of Parthiv Patel and Irfan Pathan. In a game against Bangladesh, while batting on 5, he was struck under his right eye. It was a serious injury and kept Valthaty out of action for a while.

The only chance that came his way was four years later in 2006 when he debuted for Mumbai in a one-day game against Baroda. A 31-ball 16 batting at No. 6 meant that he won’t be playing again for Mumbai for a while.

“Those were some tough times. When you don’t know if you’ll play again or not is one of the scariest feelings. You can barely go to sleep when you have such doubts creep in. If it wasn’t for my family and their drive to keep me interested, I would’ve probably stopped (playing) then. But once I healed and got back to playing, I knew I could make it up the ladder again” said Valthaty in conversation with Wisden India.

The IPL arrived and Valthaty managed to bag a contract with Rajasthan Royals but two years with the franchise could result in just two games, both coming in 2009. The now 33-year-old sat the entire season of 2010 out. Abhishek Nayar was acquired by Kings XI Punjab in 2011, who then recommended Valthaty and then came his moment. Soon he was sent to open the innings with Australian great Adam Gilchrist and then came that magical 120*.

“That season I just knew I would do well but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would score a century,” reminisces Valthaty. “I was feeling good coming into the match and before I knew it, I was in the zone. I don’t think I have felt like that before or after. I was more aware of cricket at that moment than I have been in life.”

“That night I won the Orange Cap but even after I wore the cap it didn’t sink in. Only the next morning, I realised what I had done. Oh, it’s a big deal when someone gets a second chance and makes it count,” he added.

Valthaty hailed from Mumbai but shifted cricketing base to Himachal as he was being fast-tracked into the Ranji Trophy team. 5 games for the State were less fruitful as he could collect just 120 runs and was soon done away with. His first-class career effectively ended as soon as it had begun. Valthaty said that it was because of a wrist injury that he had picked up at the IPL, which restricted his batting and subsequently, his performances.

“I picked up that wrist injury during the IPL. I was a fringe player and I didn’t want to sit out by making a big deal of it, so I kept playing with the injury. After the tournament, I got a surgery done and I wasn’t able to do well in the Ranji Trophy (for Himachal Pradesh) after that,” says Valthaty.

“I was young and naïve. Had I been smarter I would have rested and not aggravated the injury. That way I could have played a better Ranji season, and maybe even improved my chances of becoming a stable professional cricketer.”

The IPL of 2012 started and Valthaty couldn’t replicate the success of 2011. Through 2012 he could make just 30 runs in 6 knocks before losing his spot in the XI. In the 2013 version, the right-hander could only get one game in which he was out for 6. That was the last time Valthaty played professional cricket.

Since then he has been playing cricket for his employers Air India. Because he got this job under sports quota, Valthaty just has to practice and turn up for games instead of working in the office.

“I got through the sports quota so I don’t have to go to the office. It’s only practice and tournaments for me. It’s cricket full time and that’s the way I like it. I don’t know what I’ll do when I stop entirely,” he said.

But these games lack a competitive intensity as well as quality if we compare it to the level of cricket in the IPL. But such is life at 33 for Paul Valthaty.

“What I miss though is the competition. These local matches are great to keep my mind and body occupied, but you aren’t part of hair-raising moments, at least not the kind you would find in the IPL. That’s a surreal high.”

He married longtime girlfriend Caroll in 2013 and both now have a daughter: Aradhna. “We were together for about eight years before we got married. She does get agitated about the way my career turned out,” says Valthaty with a sense of gratitude. “But she has been by my side through thick and thin and I don’t think I would be as composed if it wasn’t for her. And my daughter makes me appreciate life as a whole more.”

He claims that it was because of his humble middle-class upbringing that he handled the pain of failure not once, but twice. But Valthaty lived the dream, if not for an eternity, but for that one night in Mohali.