Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

The dream of a billion comes true for one cricket mad Dubai teenager

Varun Nayanar has been chosen to represent the India Under 19 team

Varun Nayanar, 16, has won a place in India's under 19 cricket side. Antonie Robertson / The National
Varun Nayanar, 16, has won a place in India's under 19 cricket side. Antonie Robertson / The National

A dream held dear by nearly a billion people has come true for a talented Dubai teenager chosen to represent the Indian cricket team.

Varun Nayanar, a 16-year-old Grade 11 pupil at Gems Modern Academy in Dubai, was bowled over when he received his call-up for his nation's under 19 side.

It moves him one step closer to following in the famous footsteps of superstars such as current India captain Virat Kohli.

It is rich reward for years of dedication to the sport by the youngster - but for him it is just the "beginning" of his journey.

India is the undisputed global hotbed for cricket, with an International Cricket Council poll last year finding that 90 per cent of its one billion followers are Indian.

"I was shocked but now it has sunk in. I want to play for the Indian national team and this is the just the beginning,” said Varun, who is a batsman and wicketkeeper.

"I was 10-years-old when I played my first match after being encouraged by my father who loves sports.

"It started off as fun but every cricketer dreams of playing for his country."

The young sportsman had to travel during the school year on many occasions and his teachers helped him catch up by giving him extra lessons.

Varun fell in love with cricket when he was only four-years-old and would wake up as early as 4am to catch matches on TV.

"Those were the days when Shane Warne was at his peak and I liked the way he bowled, and was able to imitate him.

“My father bought me a plastic cricket set, and we started playing inside the house. He noticed that some of the things about the game came naturally to me.

"We live in Jebel Ali Gardens and were blessed to have a community cricket ground just outside our building."

As Varun played every evening, some of his parents' friends noticed his natural talent and suggested that he join a cricket academy.

"My parents say I was so passionate about the sport, and looked forward to the weekend, irrespective of having a late night. I would be awake by 6am and start pestering them to take me to the academy to play.

"My father says that he hasn't been able to sleep in on weekend mornings since."

Varun trained nearly every day, looking up to his role models AB de Villiers, the South African star regarded as one of the best wicketkeeper-batsmen in history and Kane Williamson, the captain of New Zealand.

When Varun moved to Gems Modern Academy in grade six, the cricket team for the year had already been selected. Refusing to be too disheartened by this news, he went ahead with practicing every morning and was spotted by the coaches, who drafted him in to the school team.

“I was fortunate enough to make use of that opportunity and, not only did we win the tournament, I was named the player of the series.”

Varun’s father Deepak Karal and mother Priya Nambiar, said Varun's selection "was a highly emotional moment for the family".

"I still have not gained the courage to watch him live, as my heart pounds each time he steps on to the field,” said Ms Nambiar.

They advised aspiring cricketers to follow their passions with a free mind without fear of results.

Ms Nambiar joked that the only soundtrack that played in their house was that of a ball hit by Varun crashing against a wall.

Nargish Khambatta, chief executive officer and principal at Gems Modern Academy, said the entire school is cheering on the pupil.

"It is a rare honour for a schoolboy to be selected to play cricket for his country before his 18th birthday," said Ms Khambatta.

"Varun is a balanced and humble sportsman who takes his cricket training and his academics very seriously. His mother had tears in her eyes when they came in to share the good news they received. The hard work, training, and sacrifices have paid off."

The school has applied for the Rahhal programme, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority's personalised learning programme, which will allow Varun to pursue his dream of being a cricketer along with his academic career.

Updated: February 23, 2019 07:18 PM