He no longer plays first-class cricket but Pradeep Sahu, a 33-year-old leg-spinner from Bhiwani, will be part of Australia’s World Cup tour party in England later this year. Chances are he might have for company another spinner who has never represented his state, a chinaman from Kozhikode, K K Jiyas.
Of late, Sahu and Jiyas have been spotted in Australian training gear, in the visiting dressing room on non-match days and bowling long spells during training. Their role: prepare Australian batsmen against wily sub-continent spinners.
After being part of the Australian support staff for the series against India and Pakistan, the net bowlers will also offer their services to Australia at the World Cup.
“I began working with the Australian team as a net bowler in October 2018 for the series against Pakistan in the UAE, and the ongoing India tour is my second assignment. Later, I will be returning to the UAE for another series against Pakistan, after which I will be travelling with them to England for the World Cup,” Sahu told The Indian Express.
On the eve of the series-deciding ODI at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi Thursday, Sahu and Jiyas are in high demand. With India expected to bank on their two wrist-spinners — Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav — the Aussie batsmen were keen on facing local bowlers. Sahu and Jiyas bowled for close to two-and-a-half hours and the entire Australian top order took turns facing them. Coach Justin Langer constantly asked the two spinners to change their line, length and flight as he tried to give his batsmen a feel of match situations when facing leggie Chahal and chinaman Yadav.
Sahu’s role in the Australian dressing room came after a surprise call from former India player Sridhar Sriram, who is Australia’s spin bowling coach. “Last year, I was sitting at home, when Sriram sir called me. I was surprised at first when he asked me if I could come over to Dubai. I had initially thought that it was for some IPL camp, so I accepted his offer anyway and landed in Dubai. There, he told me that the Australian team wanted to use my services as a spin bowler for their series against Pakistan,” he said.
Jiyas, a chinaman like Yadav, gave the Australian batsmen a real test and troubled Finch several times. Back home in Kozhikode, he is called “Kerala’s Maxwell” for his uncanny facial resemblance to the Australian all-rounder. He was picked through a talent scouting programme by Delhi Daredevils and drafted into the side in 2015, though he didn’t play a single match.
Sriram was particularly impressed by the way Sahu bowled in a 2016 IPL match for Kings XI Punjab against the Kolkata Knight Riders. In that match, he removed KKR openers Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir.
Sahu said that Sriram’s brief to him was simple: “You are a very versatile bowler. The Australian batsmen want to face you in the nets so that they can prepare for the likes of Yasir Shah and Shadab Khan for the upcoming Test series. So unleash all your variations against them.”
Once on board, Sahu was an integral part of team management, interacting extensively and offering suggestions. He also unleashed his bag of tricks that range from the traditional leg-break, off-spin, googly and the newly-conceived carrom ball. All which gave the Aussies the necessary preparation before their battle against Pakistani spinners.
“I was not just a mere net bowler for them. I was treated as an integral part of their team. I was asked for my feedback, about how a particular batsman played me. It proved to be beneficial for them. I think this is why they have picked me for the subsequent tours and the World Cup,” he said.
After Dubai, Sahu was summoned again for the ongoing ODI series against India. He was finally roped in after the Australian team management got the NOC (No Objection Certificate) from the BCCI.