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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
South Africa's first Indian cricketer
By Gulu Ezekiel
Delhi

Saurab Chatterjee
Chatterjee [middle] was the first Indian to play in South Africa
A stint at bowling to visiting South African cricketers at the nets of the famous Eden Gardens stadium in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta in 1991 changed Saurab Chatterjee's life.

Chatterjee, a Calcutta-born cricketer, who struggled to make it to state level cricket team back home, is now making waves in South Africa as a member of the domestic side, Gauteng Lions.

He is the first Indian to play club cricket in South Africa and last year, he was chosen as Gauteng's cricketer of the year.

Impressed with his medium pace bowling back in 1991, South Africa's cricket supremo Dr Ali Bacher offered Chatterjee a chance to play for their club, Alberton, which the 19-year-old snapped up.

'Fed up'

"For three years I remained in the reserves of the West Bengal state level team in India but never got a chance to play. I got fed up with the state cricket politics and wanted to travel abroad," Chatterjee told this writer on the phone from his home in Rosettenville, a suburb of Johannesburg.

He was an immediate success, picking up 90 wickets in his first season for the club.

The result was an offer of a three-year contract.

I miss my family and home
Saurab Chatterjee
"I jumped at the chance. I talked to my parents (who live in Calcutta as do his three brothers and a sister) who said if the standard of cricket was good, I should take up the offer. I have played continuously for the club since then."

Chatterjee also teaches physical education at a local primary school.

The big breakthrough came when he finally made his first-class debut last November.

After taking 28 wickets in five games for his club, he got the call up against Griqualand West in the SAA Provincial Challenge tournament at Kimberley.

It was a sensational debut.

He grabbed 5 wickets for 81 runs from 28 overs in the first innings and another one more wicket in the second, though that would be his only first-class match of the season.

"My most memorable match was against Cape Cobras in the Standard Bank one-day match at Newlands in December when I took 4 for 26 in 6.3 overs including the wicket of Australian international Ian Harvey," says Chatterjee, known in his circuit simply as 'Chatz.''

He also played two matches for the province in the Standard Bank Pro 20 tournament before a broken thumb ended his season.

'Talking tactics'

His consistent performances for his club and provincial side saw Chatterjee receiving Gauteng's cricketer of the year for 2005-06.

Saurab Chatterjee with his wife
Chatterjee says winning the cricketer of the year was the next best thing to his marriage
Chatterjee calls it the "biggest achievement of my life, after marrying my wife Ranushka in 1997".

The couple have a daughter, Harisha Nikita who was born in 2000.

A contemporary of former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, they played together for India's West Bengal state in junior tournaments.

"We keep in touch with each other and the night before the World Cup final in 2003, we spent time talking tactics."

Does Chatterjee miss his hometown?

"Calcutta and my family will always be missed. My last visit home was in December 2004 and at the end of this year I am bringing the Alberton Under-15 team for a tour of India. But I have made many friends here in SA who do their best to ensure I never feel homesick."

Now that he has South African citizenship, Chatterjee, 34, is eligible for play for the national side.

"I think that age might count against me at this stage. But I am always hopeful. We Bengali boys will never give up," Chatz signs off optimistically.




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