Tanmay Mishra was a starry-eyed youngster, part of a strong generation of Kenyan cricketers that had the promise of a new era. They had just made the 2003 World Cup semi-final, and talk of Full Membership was gathering steam. Then Kenyan cricket was driven into an abyss by power-hungry administrators.
Two decades later, the veteran of three World Cups - two ODIs (2007 and 2011) and one T20 (2007) - is trying to rediscover his glory days in India's far-east, in Meghalaya, after several attempts of breaking into India's domestic system.
His first opportunity came with Tripura in 2019. In just his second game, Mishra smashed his maiden List A century - a 101-ball 102 against a strong Madhya Pradesh attack that had Ishwar Pandey, Kuldeep Sen, Kumar Kartikeya and Venkatesh Iyer. He followed it up with three back-to-back fifties and finished the 2019 Vijay Hazare Trophy as Tripura's second-highest run-getter. He also made his T20 and first-class debut during the season. It promised a bright, new beginning, but as fate would have it, Covid-19 struck, and Mishra's career hit a snag.
Once the domestic season restarted, budget constraints at Tripura meant he didn't receive a callback, and it took him close to four more years before Meghalaya came calling. He hopes to cash in again, even though he hasn't started as well as he would have liked.
"One of the things is the learnings over the years, I want to sort of help the guys when I can," Mishra tells ESPNcricinfo. "I just want to try and contribute to winning for the team. I know the sort of opportunity I have and I am grateful for this opportunity."
At times, though, Mishra can't help but wonder what could have been.
It's August 2007. India A are in Kenya for a series. Rohit Sharma, fresh off an India debut, is on tour. As Mishra takes strike, Rohit dishes out a few verbal volleys.
"He was just swearing at me, saying a lot of nasty things when he was standing at third slip," Mishra recalls with a laugh. "And later that evening, after all the things he said, he came up to me and asked me about the places you could visit.
"I just said to him, 'you've been giving me such a tough time in the day and now you want me to host you'. So, like a proper Mumbaikar, he went arrey yaar, match hai woh, karna padhta hai (it's a match, you've got to do it). We are here to win, you are here to win.
"We ended up going out and had a really good time. This is a bunch of us. There was Pragyan Ojha, Parthiv Patel, and the then India A physio Vaibhav Daga who is with Lucknow [Super Giants] now. He was there for only one match. At that time, we sort of struck a bond."
That friendship remains strong, but their careers have taken different routes. Rohit has become one of the finest all-format batters ever. Tanmay's journey, on the other hand, has been one of toil.
The Mumbai-born Mishra was eight when his family moved to Nairobi. Cricket wasn't Kenya's No. 1 sport, but because Mishra's family stayed in a large estate housing Indian families, cricket wasn't far away.
Tennis-ball cricket soon became something serious and while school cricket wasn't as strong in Kenya, club cricket was huge. A lot of these clubs were formed by Indians who had migrated and were doing well in the circuit, and it was a quick way to get noticed.
"The club cricket structure in Kenya was very strong," Mishra says. "Like you would get about 10,000 people watching it. There were different kinds of Indian communities. You had the Kutchi community, the Swaminarayan community, the Sikh community, so you would get professionals coming from India.
"If you had like a derby sort of thing like, say, Swaminarayan people versus Kutchi people, you'd get about 20,000 people watching the game. So that's where the game picked up, like, the interest sort of grew. And club cricket was something that helped me polish my game."
Mishra scored oodles of runs in club cricket to quickly rise up the ranks. He made his first-class debut a month before his 17th birthday and his ODI debut less than 18 months later in Bulawayo. He was run out in his debut game against Zimbabwe for 5 but gave a good account of himself in the second outing scoring 46.
It did not take Mishra long to establish himself in that Kenyan middle order. He went to the West Indies for the 2007 ODI World Cup, followed by the T20 World Cup in South Africa. But at the back of his mind, he always knew that playing cricket wasn't a sustainable profession in Kenya. So, later in 2007, he moved to Mumbai to pursue a degree in business administration. He did not know a lot of people in Mumbai but club cricket on Sundays kept him engaged.
"Just like a monkey never forgets how to somersault, it (cricket) sort of never went," he says. "For three-and-a-half years, I regularly played club cricket, just to make sure the hand-eye coordination and stuff like that stayed intact."
Then 2011 happened, and with Kenya qualifying for the ODI World Cup, Mishra returned to Kenya to try his luck. But his welcome back wasn't as warm, because of his near-three-year break. He admits it did not make many people in the Kenyan cricket fraternity happy. A way back wasn't going to be easy.
However, he had the support of then-captain Jimmy Kamande, who believed that "if there is someone who can represent Kenya better, then that someone should play." Mishra still had to return to league cricket and score a bucket-load of runs to prove his worth. The result was a place in the Kenya squad for the 2011 World Cup.
It was a decision that would shape the next decade of his career. Kenya had a disastrous campaign, but Mishra finished as the team's second-highest run-getter. The one innings that caught people's notice was his 72 against an Australia attack which had Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait.
"After that night, things were very different," he says. "I got a bit of runs, and especially against Australia, it changed everything. And even my father, or those who knew my father from the cricket fraternity, they said 'he's got to come and start playing here. You don't know what can happen. Let him play here.'
"I had a few friends of mine who said, at least play your club cricket in Mumbai. You never know, you still go represent Kenya, but you never know. And then in two years' time, I remember Kenyan cricket wasn't playing the cricket it was supposed to be. And I made that change."
A pivotal moment in Mishra's career came in 2012 during Kenya's tour to Visakhapatnam where they were playing an ACA XI side in preparation for the T20 World Cup qualifiers. Lots of runs there earned him an IPL call-up from Deccan Chargers, and was signed up as a local player courtesy his Indian passport.
Mishra played just one game that season and did not get to bat, but it was motivation enough for him to make the switch full-time and look for options in India. So after representing Kenya in 42 ODIs (1128 runs at 34.18) and 15 T20Is (227 runs at 15.13), he packed his bags and headed to the place of his birth Mumbai at the age of 27.
"To get an opportunity in a team like Mumbai is very difficult. Regardless of how much you do, there is always someone better than you. I knew it was not going to be easy, I am going to be competing against almost 100 people for one spot, coming from a place where you don't have competition," Mishra admits. "I was scoring runs, but those runs would have never gotten counted. It's against who you score.
"So even after scoring runs, if you took those stats somewhere and especially in a place like India, people would be like, what is this? We have domestic cricket, and the cricket is very strong over here. It wasn't them being rude. It was just asking the right question maybe in a different way."
Mishra's last outing for Kenya was in 2013 and for the next six years, he did all that he could to break into the Mumbai side. He scored runs in the Times Shield tournament, DY Patil T20 Cup, Kanga league, and was named in the Mumbai probables, but the senior call-up never arrived. He was also picked by Royal Challengers Bangalore for INR 10 lakh in 2014 but did not get a game.
Was there frustration? "Lots," he says. "Sometimes you just have to accept, and you have to persevere. You're not a bad player, when you've played as much as cricket I played. It's just that sometimes you have to accept that there could be a different state for you."
Mishra had an opportunity to play for another state after his RCB stint in 2014, which he passed, a decision he regrets to date. "You can call it my naivety or ignorance where I thought I might get an opportunity for Mumbai considering I'm already in IPL. I should have taken that opportunity for that state team that had arrived during the IPL itself."
He had to eventually move out of Mumbai to look for opportunities. It was in 2017 when he went to Tripura to play club cricket. He scored the runs but the call-up still took two years to arrive. In 2019, he was named in the Tripura side as a guest player. That opportunity lasted all of a season.
Now, in 2023, after all these travails, Mishra the journeyman hopes Meghalaya can give him another wind. A consistent run of games where he can put his experience into play and deliver performances of note. He may have aged, but the eagerness to contribute and win remains the same as it was in 2003.