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At 35, a cricketer is either at his peak or starts thinking of an alternative career for the future. However, once a talented all-rounder and touted as India’s next Kapil Dev, Reetinder Singh Sodhi is already in his happy space, enjoying his role as a match referee.
If his back injury had not recurred in 2010, he would have been playing alongside the likes of his teammates Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh for Punjab in Ranji Trophy or featured in IPL.
In Mumbai to oversee the Ranji Trophy Group B game between Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh starting on Saturday, Sodhi is dressed smartly in dark blue formals with a BCCI logo on his shirt. This will be his first first-class game at the iconic venue in his second year as a match referee.
He meets and greets most of the cricketers who are also his friends. But from Saturday, he will be a strict observer and oversee that the match runs on a smooth note. “I have been given a job that is full of responsibility. Friends or no friends, it doesn’t matter. My job is to run the game smoothly and maintain discipline. I want to do a fine job with it.”
Sodhi is happy that he is at least associated with the game as a match referee, if not as a cricketer. “The best part is that this is all about cricket. Earlier, I used to play. Now, I have a responsibility to see that the game is run smoothly and there is no indiscipline. I think this job is a bit different. First we had to be in discipline, now I have to see that the boys maintain discipline. Before, I used to carry my kit bag. Now, I carry a laptop.
Sodhi first shot into the limelight in 1996 by leading India to an U-15 World Cup win at Lord’s in the final against Pakistan where he scored 82 and took 3/34. Then, as vice-captain he was rubbing shoulders with Yuvraj and captain Mohd Kaif in 2000 when India won the U-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka under the latter’s captaincy.
In 2000, he broke into the Indian team. However, he suffered a stress fracture after the South Africa tour while playing the Challenger Series in 2002. He was treated for injury and then returned to the side for the West Indies the same year and was also in the probables for 2003 World Cup. Life wasn’t the same any more.
“I wanted to play very badly. Nobody likes to leave the game, but god had different plans. The injury was so bad that I had to be on wheelchair for two years. It was so bad that I needed two people to help me go to the bathroom. I returned in 2009-10 to play IPL, but I felt uncomfortable. God also thought I am done with my cricket,” he said.
Sodhi still gets emotional whenever he gets nostalgic. “Yes, sometimes. My career was all about tragedy. Everything was going fine till that injury happened. However, I am a content man. I have played the game with respect and honour for my country. Now, I am doing this job which is also honourable. I will take that pride feeling that I played for India,” he added.