Saturday, April 20, 2024

Meet India-born Tarun Sharma, captain of Mexico’s cricket team

Cricket is often described as a “religion” in India, a cricket-mad country where millions of children harbor the dream of at least playing for the Indian national team, if not actually captaining it.

Like the vast majority of boys (and increasingly girls) who grow up playing cricket on the streets and sports grounds of India, Tarun Sharma didn’t achieve either of those things, but he did accomplish a somewhat similar feat, albeit one that few, if any, kids in major cricket-playing nations have ever envisioned.

Tarun Sharma playing cricket.
Tarun Sharma playing cricket. (Courtesy of Tarun Sharma)

He became a national-level cricket player and captain in Mexico, of all places, where the top cricketers play for the love of the game rather than the large sums of money that are on offer in some countries, most notably India, which is home to the world’s most lucrative cricket competition, the Indian Premier League or IPL.

Sharma — a talented batsman who started playing cricket on the streets of the northern Indian city of Sonipat as a boy — debuted for the Mexican cricket team at the Central American Cricket Championships in Belize in 2006, and just over a decade later, was appointed national captain by the Mexico Cricket Association committee.

In just his second year as captain in 2018, he led Mexico to victory in the South American Cricket Championship, with the team remaining undefeated throughout the entire tournament in Colombia. The following year, Mexico lost to Argentina in the final of the same championship, but all in all, it was another successful campaign for a team led by a man who had long dreamed of playing cricket — his self-declared “passion” — at a high level.

“They all feel very proud of me,” Tarun told Mexico News Daily this week when I asked him what his family and friends back in India think of his impressive cricket achievements — so far from his original home.

“I myself am very proud, leading this team and playing for Mexico,” he said, adding that his parents and siblings, among others, take a keen interest in his cricketing exploits.

Sharma moved to Mexico for work 20 years ago and is now a dual Indian-Mexican citizen, which allows him to play for the Mexican national team.

During an interview on Monday, he gave me an overview of his unique cricketing story, which began in the most common of ways in India, but took an unexpected turn after he relocated to Mexico.

Tarum Sharma playing cricket in England.
Tarum Sharma playing cricket in England. (Courtesy of Tarun Sharma)

The journey to becoming Mexican cricket captain — via Maharashtra, Worcester and Milan 

Sharma pointed out that field hockey, rather than cricket, is the national sport of India, and explained that the game is particularly popular in his home state of Haryana, which borders the National Capital Territory of Delhi and several states in the republic’s north.

He played hockey at school and didn’t become interested in organized, competitive cricket until India won the 1983 Cricket World Cup in England and Wales. Sharma was 11 at the time, and, inspired by Indian players such as cricket legend Kapil Dev, decided to “get serious” about the sport he had previously only played after school with friends “for fun.”

He went on to play organized cricket through his teenage years and represented Sonipat at a district level at the age of 16 before moving to the state of Maharashtra to study engineering at university.

Sharma continued to play cricket, including at a high local level in Maharashtra, where he played with and against outstanding cricketers such as national representative Vinod Kambli. Later in the 1990s, he enjoyed stints playing cricket during summer in Worcester, England, the country where cricket originated more than 400 years ago.

In early 2004, having completed a Master’s degree in International Business in the U.K. and having started working for a Danish rubber production company, Sharma transferred with that firm to Mexico City, where his Mexican cricket adventure began.

Shortly after arriving in the capital, he began playing alongside other Indians in a team called Los Tigres de Bengala, or The Bengal Tigers.

The Mexican national cricket team. (Courtesy of Tarun Sharma)

Matches were played at Mexico’s home of cricket, the Reforma Athletic Club in Naucalpan, where cricket has been played since the late 19th century and continues to be played to this day. After a couple of highly successful seasons with the Tigres, and having met the residency-requirement to play for Mexico, Sharma was drafted into the national side for the inaugural Central American Championships in Belize, at which Mexico ending up losing the final to the host nation.

Thus, at the still young but not-so-tender age of 33, the international career of the stylish Indian-born bateador mexicano (Mexican batsman) was underway.

But just as it was getting started, Sharma’s international cricket career was interrupted as his work took him to Italy, where he kept up his skills by turning out for a cricket club in Milan.

However, his stay in Italy wasn’t a particularly long one, and by 2008 he was back living in Mexico.

Sharma returned to the national team soon after, and went on to play matches at home and abroad against countries including Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador and Chile, and even teams from the Falkland Islands and one representing the fabled Marylebone Cricket Club in London.

Playing in the Mexican team that won the 2014 South American Cricket Championship in Peru during the country’s inaugural participation in the tournament was a highlight.

Three years later, Sharma captained Mexico at the same tournament for the first time, and would go on to do so again at the 2018, 2019, 2022 and 2023 editions. At last year’s championship in Argentina, he became, at the age of 51, the oldest ever international captain in T20 cricket, the shortest — and according to many people — most exciting form of the sport.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list of the oldest captains, as displayed on the preeminent cricket website espncricinfo.com, is dominated by representatives of countries considered cricket “minnows” such as Luxembourg, Croatia and Cambodia. Tarun finds it somewhat amusing to find himself at the top of the list.

Having made his debut in international cricket almost two decades ago, and having led the Mexican team on numerous occasions over a period of six years, Sharma decided earlier this year to step down from the captaincy. But despite now being in the sixth decade of life, he is likely to play at least a few more international matches yet.

Tarun with a national teammate
Tarun and Luis Hermida, another member of the Mexican national team. (Courtesy of Tarun Sharma)

The mission to grow cricket in Mexico

“We want to see kids born in Mexico playing for the national side. That’s our objective, that’s our vision,” Tarun told MND, noting that most players who have represented the team relocated to Mexico from cricket-playing countries such as India and England, although one Mexican-born player, Australia-based Luis Hermida, has played for Mexico.

Sharma acknowledged that achieving the objective will be a “challenge” and asserted that to overcome it “we have to promote cricket in schools.”

With the support of the Mexico Cricket Association (MCA), cricket has been introduced in a small number of Mexican schools, but there’s still plenty of work to do in a country where football (or soccer) is easily the most popular sport, and cricket is virtually unknown.

Over the years, Sharma has dedicated countless hours of his spare time to coaching children and women, including many Mexicans, helping them hone their techniques and understand the sometimes confusing and complex rules of cricket.

He noted that one product of the junior cricket development program in Mexico, a Mexican 15-year-old boy, will travel to Costa Rica next month as part of the national team that will compete in this year’s Central American Cricket Championship.

Sharma also mentioned that Mexico sent a kids’ team to the Street Child Cricket World Cup in India last year, while junior national teams have participated in other international tournaments in recent years. The Mexican women’s team has also participated in recent international tournaments.

Sharma has also made significant contributions to growing cricket beyond metropolitan Mexico City, including in Querétaro, where he now lives. After becoming Mexican captain, he visited Guadalajara and Monterrey to meet with players and donate equipment provided by the MCA, and he played a key role in establishing an annual national cricket championship, at which teams from different parts of Mexico compete for the right to be known as the country’s best.

“I felt the need to have other regions [of Mexico] involved in the MCA. The idea is to grow cricket in other states,” he said, adding that his fellow Indians and other Mexico-based foreigners have helped to do that in various parts of the country.

Four decades after he first got serious about cricket in Sonipat, Sharma told MND his passion for the sport “is not dying,” explaining with those words words what motivates him to continue working to increase the popularity of cricket in Mexico, and to keep on coaching and mentoring new players while also playing the sport he loves himself, even if it’s just at the local level in Querétaro.

By Mexico News Daily chief staff writer Peter Davies ([email protected])

This article is part of Mexico News Daily’s “India in Focus” series. Read the other articles from the series here

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