How Natraj Behara's mother inspired him to excel

Natraj Behera is in the form of his life. Yesterday, the Odishaopener hit his fourth consecutive century in the Ranji Trophy this season, amassing 106 against Gujarat at the Motera in their Group A clash.

Odisha’s opener Natraj Behera celebrates his century against Mumbai at Wankhede recently. Pic/Suresh KK

What makes Behera’s performances noteworthy is that these four tons have come against quality opponents. The 25-year-old right-hander hasn’t looked back ever since his 158 against former champions Delhi at Sambalpur earlier this month.

In the last match, Behera’s centuries in both innings (130 and 127 not out) prevented 40-time Ranji champions Mumbai from claiming an outright win at the Wankhede. Behera, who has 558 runs in five matches so far, credits his mother for his gritty performances match after match.

Missing mum’s smile
“My mother was not happy because I did not score runs (22, 8 & 7) in the first two games of the season. I could not see her worried. I was missing her smile. She’s been a great support in my career so far. I wanted to make her happy. I voluntarily dropped out of the next three games to work on my batting. Luckily, it has worked well for me. I can’t wait to see that smile on her face again when I return home,” Behera told MiD DAY during Odisha’s encounter against Mumbai from December 14-17.

Behera, who lost his father when he was just three, has dedicated his cricket to his mother. “She single-handedly took care of my brother and me. She has sacrificed a lot. It is my time now to take care of her. And I will do anything to make her happy,” said Behera of his mother, who is a nurse in a government hospital in Rourkela.

There is a noticeable change in Behera’s batting. His Odisha teammates have never seen him value his wicket so much. “I was determined to face at least 200 balls. I got hit on the ribs during the Delhi match. Here (Mumbai) too, I faced a few sharp bouncers on my helmet, but I wanted to stay at the wicket at any cost,” Behera said.

Best Indian in U-22
Though Behera was drafted by the Kolkata Knightriders into their 45-member probables list for IPL II in 2009, the Odisha batsman burst onto the domestic scene only when he was awarded the MA Chidambaram Trophy for the best Indian cricketer in the U-22 category in 2011. He also led East Zone to two Duleep Trophy titles in 2011-12 and 2012-13. But early promise was starting to fizzle out. His consistency suffered the most in the last Ranji season and he scored just 269 in eight matches.

“I don’t know what happened in between. I just could not score runs. It was thrilling to share the stage with the 2011 World Cup-winning team during the awards ceremony.

“But when I was not performing, people began speculating that my career was finished and that I was not concentrating on the game. I felt bad about it.

“I spoke to Virender Sehwag, who is also my idol, recently and he advised me to stay on the wicket for as long as possible. I have just been following that,” he signed off. 

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