close to us has groundnuts with mango and guava trees standing over them. And between the two, we grow the feed for the horses,” he says, before he slips back to talking about the past. “There were times when I had to manage the entire day with just Rs 10 in my pocket. When playing matches away from home, where you even had to buy water, it used to get tough,” he says. Defiantly, he adds: “I can still survive on a bare minimum. I am not fussy about what I eat or wear.” To stress the point, the DKNY shades move from the eyes to his hands. “Cricket has given me a lot. If I earn enough, why shouldn’t I spend?”
Very early in life, Jadeja realised cricket was a wise investment and would get him things he yearned for. He would play “winners take all” games where the better team would take home the kitty formed by the equal contribution from all 22 players. Most times, the winning XI would share Rs 22 and Jadeja would double his investment. The dividend would be enough to get him several long polythene flutes filled with iced water. He loved them. “That was our Pepsi,” he says with a smile.
When he failed to convince his father to part with the one-rupee he needed to be part of the matches, he would rush to the nurse station at the government hospital where his mother worked. “She would never refuse,” says Jadeja. Naina says her brother, the naughtiest of the siblings, was his mother’s pet. “I would beat him up but he would snuggle up to mother. He couldn’t sleep without her,” she says. From accompanying Jadeja to outstation games, talking to his coaches and asking other team members to keep an eye on her prankster son, the overworked nurse tried her best to be a cricket mom too.
In 2005, Jadeja lost his biggest supporter and emotional anchor. Third-degree burns following an accident in the kitchen resulted in his mother’s painful death. No one in the family is keen to revisit that nightmare. Though sketchy details do emerge. Jadeja wasn’t at home. Just 16, he wanted to quit when he returned to an unfamiliar home. But after a few days, he changed his mind. “Not after all that my mother did to make me a cricketer,” he says.
Sister Naina filled the void and shielded