It has been a rapid rise for Ravi Bishnoi, who was picked ahead of senior spinner R Ashwin for the crucial India-Pakistan Asia Cup game. The boy from a humble background, who once had to work at a ground to make it fit for cricket training, starred at the 2020 U-19 World Cup, was signed for Rs 4 crore by Lucknow franchise and got his India senior break.
It is close to being a typical rags-to-riches story. A few years ago, Bishnoi broke down after being rejected in trials in the Rajasthan U-19 circuit. Those days, seemed a distant memory when he caught the attention of the cricketing world, helping India colts to a runner-up finish in South Africa two years ago. In fact, the turmoil within Rajasthan cricket, didn’t help Bishnoi’s cause.
Seeing how the youngest of his four kids was on the edge emotionally, his father Mangi Lal decided it would be for the best if Bishnoi focussed on studies and forget about cricket.
It was then that the coach Shahrukh Pathan convinced him to give one more year to cricket. Khan spoke to Dishyant Yagnik, a former Rajasthan first class player and fielding coach of Rajasthan Royals, to put in a word to the authorities to have a look at Bishnoi once again.
Bishnoi was called and he got a talented U-19 batsman of the state team twice in his first two balls. That freakish effort convinced that selectors that he does have talent. In the first game of Vinoo Mankad Trophy, Bishnoi grabbed five wickets and hasn’t looked back since.
Interestingly, Bishnoi says spin was never his first choice, he had wanted to become a medium pacer. His two coaches whom he addresses as brother – Pathan and Pradyot Singh – felt Bishnoi didn’t have the physique to become a pacer. “They told me to bowl leg-spin, I started to bowl and soon they felt I should take this seriously,” Bishnoi explains.
Pathan explains his rationale: “There were hardly any leg- spinner in India around four-five years ago. We felt there were more chances for a leg-spinner to play higher cricket, especially a leggie who can bat. Leg-spin is an art and it takes time and perfection. At the same time, he was too small, he used to run like a medium pacer, he didn’t have strong shoulder or strong legs.”
What impressed the coach was the trajectory of the deliveries. “It was natural for him. What happens with a leg- spinner, if you go by book, is that the left hand should come up straight like a clock hand at 12 o’clock. Ravi (Bishnoi) would come from say 11 o’clock. A bit like Anil Kumble, I would say, tilting a touch to his left side. Also, a leg-spinner would normally take a run-up of around seven yards, Ravi’s goes to 12-14 yards,” Pathan says. That angle of release has helped the trajectory being a touch different from usual, and has also made the googly a bit more difficult to pick, says the coach. “The googly skids on, not much time for the batsmen to adjust,” Pathan says.
A little bit of help from Rahul Dravid, now Team India’s head coach, during his time at the National Cricket Academy too helped. Dravid advised against changing Bishnoi’s action and that if any coach tries, ask them to speak to him first. Not only did Dravid tell the youngster that he was reminded of Kumble but also offered a suggestion: “Rahul sir told me that try to make the ball come back to the batsman. As in, don’t offer width outside off and allow the batsman to cut or use the pace and work in the gaps. Attack the stumps, keep it straight and make the batsman drive back to you,” Bishnoi recalled. Or in other words, bowl the Kumble line.
He owes a lot primarily to the attention and care given by coaches Pathan and Singh. For a boy who used to play at an RTO ground where ticketed (challaned) cars were parked, if it wasn’t for the two coaches who left jobs to open a cricket academy, he would have been lost to the game.
Even the story behind the academy says a lot about the state of affairs. Since they didn’t have much money to spare, the coaches and the young cricketers laboured for six months to spruce up the ground. On their own, just to reduce the labour cost. A lanky Bishnoi too was one of those ‘labourers’.
His father is now a relieved man and can’t stop laughing as he shares his own doubts and worries from the past. “Seeing him crying did break my heart then. I told him to forget cricket, take up studies – yahan sey kaun ladka India khela hai? (who has played for India from these parts?) I am a headmaster of a school, I guide hundreds of children’s future but at my home, my own son doesn’t like to study,” he laughs. “I thought he will at least get some job but life had other plans.” Masterji ka ladka is proving the father wrong.