Venugopal Rao shares his extraordinary 'rags to riches' cricketing journey

Venugopal Rao shares his extraordinary ‘rags to riches’ cricketing journey

Venugopal motivates the youngsters by telling them that they have all the facilities now which were not available during his time.

Venugopal Rao of Deccan Charges
Venugopal Rao. (Photo Source: Getty Images)

Many of the Indian cricket followers may not remember Venugopal Rao’s contributions to the national team, as the cricketer from Visakhapatnam played only 16 ODIs for the national team. But hailing from a very humble background and a village 30 kilometres away from Vizag, the 35-year-old is very proud of what he has achieved. The likes of Simon Jones and Matt Prior might still remember the name, as Rao smashed an unbeaten 228 in the fourth innings of a four-day match against England A, as South Zone chased down the mammoth total of 501.

Following his amazing performances for Andhra Pradesh in domestic cricket, Rao got a chance to wear the prestigious blue jersey but couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity. His highest international score is 61 not out, which came against Pakistan in 2006. When Rao looks back at the past, he feels he didn’t utilize his potential to the fullest, but in the very next moment says he is very happy with what he has achieved throughout his career.

While speaking to The Hindu, Rao grew nostalgic as pictures of his struggling childhood flashed before his eyes. Digging deep on old memories, he recapitulates “When I started my Ranji Trophy career, I was getting ₹3,500 per match. That was a big sum those days. I came from a lower-middle-class family. My father’s salary was ₹ 7,000 a month and we were five brothers. I never played for money but was able to save a bit and it helped the family,” Rao saod.

“All five of us brothers played for Andhra at some level. Cricket is an expensive sport. My younger brother Gnaneswar Rao (who later was India U-19 captain) and I shared the same bat sometimes as kids. When my father retired from Hindustan Zinc, his colleagues were incredibly happy for him because they saw how much he had struggled. Life was hard.”

“How many crores of people want to play for the country… and I was able to do it. Only few people get the chance to do what they love for a living. Playing against Pakistan was good. My debut was in Dambulla; Suresh Raina got out first ball and I came in. I had to face (Muttiah) Muralitharan first up. I was expecting a doosra, but I got a normal ball. I got out for 38, caught behind. For a small-town boy to share the dressing room with Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman — who has been like a big brother to me — and Rahul Dravid is a great feeling,” the man who has over 7,000 runs in professional cricket continued.

Remembering the days when he donned the Indian jersey, his heart swelled up with regret as he feels he could have represented the country many more times. “I definitely feel I could have played more. Sometimes I still feel that regret. Somewhere along the way, I didn’t make the most of the talent I had. I can’t pinpoint one reason. Maybe I didn’t push myself. Maybe I lacked proper guidance. There were a few personal things that really hurt me. I had to overcome all that. But I can’t blame anybody. It is your own journey,” he added.

The boon called IPL

Unlike yesteryear’s cricketers, the modern generation is extremely conscious about their diet and exercise regime. They do not want to lose their shape and posture and Rao feels IPL has done the trick. He further mentioned that by playing in theIPL, they can communicate with many foreign cricketers and get to know about their way of preparing for the game.

“So much has changed. Today’s generation is systematic: off the field, these kids know how to manage their fitness, their diet. We were a bit rusty there. Because of IPL, they talk to a lot of world-class players; even I learnt a lot,” Rao said.