February 16, 2015. Ahead of season 8 of the Indian Premier League, the all-important auction saw a total of 217 players go under the hammer. The IPL auction stayed true to its wont of creating overnight millionaires.
Amidst all the cash-splash, it was Mumbai Indians – a team that had made a tradition out of picking the 'flavour of the season' – who uncharacteristically decided to bank on Indian domestic talent.
One such talent was Siddhesh Lad, yet another batting prodigy churned out by the maidans of Mumbai, who was bought for a base price of Rs.10 lakhs.
Five seasons and 3 IPL trophies later, one would imagine that Mumbai Indians would have found a place for 'The Crisis Man of Mumbai Cricket'. Siddhesh's ability to bail Mumbai out time and time again, while also topping the batting charts for Mumbai for two consecutive years in the Ranji Trophy, certainly did not go unrecognized.
However, by his own admission, and perhaps modesty, it was never about the first IPL cap, the pursuit of which came to an end when he opened the innings for Mumbai Indians against Kings XI Punjab in one of the greatest chases of IPL 2019.
"Being in the playing XI for Mumbai Indians was always going to be difficult as most of the players have international experience. I always knew it would be difficult making it to the playing XI," said Siddhesh Lad while exclusively speaking to Sportskeeda after Mumbai's title-winning IPL 2019 campaign.
In fact, he felt that his stint with the Mumbai Indians played a pivotal role in his rise in domestic cricket.
"The experience has been amazing for the last 4 seasons and the time I spent with the senior players was something that helped me do well in domestic cricket. Watching the players in the MI setup – the way they prepare, their work ethics – has helped me do well in domestic cricket."
It is quite ironic that the opportunity of a long-anticipated debut came at the cost of Rohit Sharma, someone who Siddhesh has played with and under since their school days. In fact, Rohit Sharma was coached under the watchful eye of Dinesh Lad, a key figure in the Bombay circuits and father of Siddhesh.
"I went home a day before the game because I was not a part of the supposed playing XI. I did not even practice the day. Late night, Rohit Sharma was down with niggle in practice. They called me late at night. I was prepared but was taken a little off guard".
"It was a bit surprising, but having been with MI for more than 4 seasons, I knew I was due for a chance and was prepared to take it. Being around the team for these many years helped as I didn't feel I was out of depth."
"The debut was exciting and it was something I waited for a long time."
The 26-year-old was all praise for Rohit, now a 4-time IPL winning captain. Recalling playing with him for more than a decade, Lad shed some light on what makes 'The Hitman' such a great captain. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of players in the MI camp who feel the same.
"Rohit's has always been calm and composed. He'll always support you and no matter what, he'll have your back because that's what a great captain does. I always enjoy playing under him and I am sure everyone in Mumbai Indians would say the same. I have seen a lot of them appreciating his captaincy."
While discussing Rohit's and Mumbai Indians' success, Siddhesh also pointed out the importance of "family culture" in a team, something that the franchise thrives on, and also explains why MI are as successful as they are.
"If you want to win championships, you need to have good team bonding. Before the start of the season, we have team bonding sessions. We spend a lot of time together which helps us gel well. It is like a family. All this reflects when we take the field."
Merely days after Mumbai Indians' tiring IPL campaign, Siddhesh Lad has already hopped on to his next assignment– the T20 Mumbai League – where we will see him captaining the Shivaji Park Lions.
The rise of franchise cricket in Indian states has paved the way for youngsters into Ranji teams and even the Indian Premier League teams. Tournaments like Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) and Karnataka Premier League (KPL) have been instrumental in putting the limelight on the lesser-known local talent.
While identifying players to watch out for in the T20 Mumbai League, Siddhesh Lad emphasised on how the tournament could be a boon for local players and youngsters looking to strike it rich.
"T20 Mumbai League is the biggest platform for youngsters to showcase their talents. The entire country is watching which is the perfect opportunity for them to perform under pressure."
"There are quite a few young talents to look forward to this season. Tushar Deshpande is someone who can consistently clock over 140 kmph. Our (Shivaji Parks Lions) wicketkeeper-batsman Hardik Tamore was a part of Mumbai U23s this season and was impressive. 20-year-old Tanush Kotian was recently part of India's U19 setup, and the offie is someone to keep an eye on."
After the T20 Mumbai League, Lad's attention will shift to Sri Lanka's A tour of India A, where he will be a part of the series. Despite the pressure and the hype, he is unsurprisingly unfazed. Having impressed in domestic cricket for Mumbai in all the formats, this will be his chance to get in the reckoning for a potential Indian team spot in the future.
Speaking about his future, Siddhesh said, "My approach toward the game will always be the same, even when I play for India A. The Ranji season gives me the confidence to do well for India A or if I get a chance to play for India in the future."