My father Ram Lal Nikhanj was a strict disciplinarian and he instilled in me the spirit of fighting and winning. We lived in Chandigarh, which is divided into sectors. There was intense competition in the field of sports, especially cricket. Inter-sector matches were played in the local park every Sunday. The older boys would play and I was a mere spectator. In fact, till the age of 13, I had no plans of becoming a cricketer.
On a Sunday morning, there was a match between Sector 16 and another team. Sector 16 had three ex-Ranji players and had a very good track record of winning matches. Suddenly it was discovered that the team was one player short. It was by chance that I was spotted and taken into the team. I played well and was soon made a regular team member. Though this was just a matter of luck, it changed the course of my life altogether.
I felt the urge to excel. My family — especially my elder brother Bhusan, three years older than me — encouraged me. At the age of 14, I was taken on in the school team. I was in DAV School, which was known for producing outstanding sportsmen and scholars.
I was doing well in the school team. One day I overheard one of my teachers telling Bhusan, Your brother will play for India in future. This remark egged me on and I put in my best. I grew up overnight, became more mature. And after that I stopped bunking school.
There was only one good cricket coach in Chandigarh — the legendary D.P. Azad. I mustered the courage to approach him and told him that I wanted to be his student. He didnt charge any money but was very choosy. Finally, one day I was allowed to enter the practice net.
Next year, I was selected for a camp for talented young cricketers at the cricket club of India run by former Test player Hemu Adhikari. Keki Tarapore was in charge of the management.
After three hours of practice, we were given two dry chappatis and a spoonful of vegetables. I protested and said, I am a fast bowler so I need more. Tarapore flared up and said, There are no fast bowlers in India. This remark did the trick. I resolved to become the best and the fastest, and to date I am thankful to him.