In this extract from Cricket Drona: for the love of Vasu Paranjape (Penguin eBury Press), Rohit Sharma looks back at the impact the Mumbai coach had on turning him into a world-class batsman
I remember very clearly when I met Vasoo Sir [Vasudev Paranjape] for the first time. There was an under-17 camp at Wankhede Stadium, and out of the thirty probables only fifteen were going to make it to the team. When you're a kid trying to make your mark in Mumbai cricket, you're more focused on what you have to do at a trial than on learning about people who are watching you. I knew they were all respected coaches, especially Vasoo Sir, but I had no clue about what cricket he had played or which players he had mentored.
Soon after, Vasoo Sir was in conversation with Pravin Amre, who was the chairman of the Junior Selection Committee; he was telling him about me. When Amre Sir started to talk to me about Vasoo Sir and explained who he was and what he had done for Mumbai cricket, I was dazed. I realized that this was a massive opportunity for me. Here was a man whose knowledge of cricket was amazing, and whose mind bordered on cricket-crazy, and I had a chance to absorb what I could. I decided to make the most of this opportunity - to learn, to glean as much as I possibly could from Sir. This was my big moment!
Though he mainly had to focus on the playing eleven, I kept trying to find some excuse to be near him and talk to him. Actually, I just wanted him to talk, so I could listen and learn. Remember, we come from the Bombay school of cricket. There is a standard that has been set and these are the people who have done it before us - they played with legends and won everything, every season.
He watched me during one of my net sessions at Wankhede, and then something happened. He went to the captain and said, 'We need to get this kid into the team. You figure out your combination and all that. I won't interfere. But this boy needs to play. Work with me.'
Prashant Naik, who was the captain, came to me. 'Look,' he said, 'I don't know anything about you and I've not heard much about you either, but Vasoo Sir says you have to play. So you're playing tomorrow.'
When I scored a century in an under-17 game in Baroda, I remember Vasoo Sir talking to Kiran More about me. Vasoo Sir saw some spark in me, and he always made it a point to push my case.
I got to learn from him how to approach batting in different situations. He always told us: 'No two situations are the same. Try and read the game - where you are, what you can do for your team and the situation your team is in. Learn this as soon as you can because now is the time to learn, not when you are playing for Bombay or India.'
"He protected us from everything. He got negative feedback from selectors, officials, journalists and others, but he just kept it all to himself. When he came to us, he never mentioned a word. It was all batting, bowling, fielding, solving problems."
In so many of my innings for India, there have been instances when I have thought of something that Sir had told me all those years ago and applied that to the present game.
When I first met him, I had only played one season of junior cricket. I had no concept of playing for Mumbai or India. But here was this person telling me what I should do, urging me to take small steps ahead. Young players sometimes get overawed and forget that the big things happen only if you do small things perfectly. This is something he always did, as I later realised.
When speaking to young players, he knew how to get them to move forward, one step at a time. There is no point telling youngsters about bigger goals at that early a stage in their careers, and he understood that. This is what you call a helping hand. This is just what young sportspersons need.
When I go out to the middle, I remember the things Vasoo Sir told me back then. Things like: as a batsman or a captain, if you can't read the situation, the team is already in trouble; if you're the boss, you have to walk out like you mean it, otherwise the shoulders of those who follow you will droop.
He treated all of us like his own children, not as cricketers. We never felt that we were training under a coach. He was more like a father figure to us. He never uttered an aggressive word, projected no negativity. We lost games, there were people who did not perform consistently, but he never spoke to them harshly. He was always polite and friendly, and that's what you need at that age. I was lucky to have played under him.
I felt no pressure despite the fact that I was playing in the Mumbai atmosphere. All our lives we had been told that if you don't win the title, it's not a successful season. We were always reminded of the high standards set by those who came before us. All of us had to play with that in mind. But I can confidently tell you that not for one moment did we feel any pressure from the management, coach or selectors, and that was because of Vasoo Sir. He would speak to all of them, listening carefully to what they had to say and then tell them, 'Don't worry, I'll take care of it.'
He protected us from everything. He got negative feedback from selectors, officials, journalists and others, but he just kept it all to himself. We also heard these things. But when he came to us, he never mentioned a word. It was all batting, bowling, fielding, solving problems.
It's very important to be able to demonstrate a skill, especially to younger guys, when they're just not getting it. The worst thing is for the coach to send the wrong message. If a player does not understand, Vasoo Sir would not let him go. If he had to pick up a bat and get in the nets to show the player just how something should be done, he would do that.
Our team was the Mumbai gang. But Vasoo Sir could talk to us in Hindi, English, Gujarati and obviously Marathi. Apart from those, he could also speak other languages: fielding, batting and bowling. Everyone got what they needed from him, whether it was information or technical input.
Even today, I look forward to any message from Vasoo Sir. Jatin, who has always been around, is my bridge. I always ask him, 'Anything?' I know Vasoo Sir watches my games when he can and, trust me, any input he gives me is gold dust. After every innings I wait to hear from him, and if he can't get through to me because I'm travelling, I wait for Jatin to get in touch.
I blossomed as a cricketer in that one season with Vasoo Sir. Whether we won or lost, he would sit us around and talk about the game. After these sessions, we let it all go and went to sleep with a light mind, shedding the baggage and thinking about what we needed and wanted to do the next day. He freed my mind, allowed me to dream about playing for India and showed me the steps I had to take to get there. That's what Vasoo Sir does to a cricketer.
When I look back, I realise how shrewdly Sir had forged the path that led me to the world stage of cricket. I was not from a big club or a big school or a college team. I was an outlier. But Sir's recommendations to Pravin Amre, Kiran More and Dilip Vengsarkar got people talking about me, and I delivered on that promise. Without Sir by my side in those early years, I would not have been able to achieve as much as I fortunately have.