Navdeep Saini starred with the ball as Delhi demolished Bengal by an innings and 26 runs in the Ranji Trophy 2017-18 semi-final in Pune on Tuesday. The seamer said he was a nobody and Gautam Gambhir did everything for him.
“I owe this life and my success to Gautam Gambhir. I was a nobody and Gautam bhaiyaa did everything for me,” Saini was quoted by PTI. Saini was scheduled to leave for South Africa as a net bowler with the Indian cricket team but Ankit Rajpoot of Uttar Pradesh was sent. The Delhi seamer revealed it was a conversation with Gambhir that cleared his confusion.
“I was happy that I would go to South Africa but I called up Gautam bhaiyya. He said Delhi needs you now for the semi-final and if you do well, you will be automatically in that Indian dressing room. I didn’t think twice,” said Saini.
Saini, who returned with a career-best match haul of 7/79 against Bengal, revealed how senior Delhi cricketers supported him when questions were being raised about his inclusion in Delhi squad.
During the 2013-14 season that Gambhir pushed for Saini, who was from Karnal. Gambhir was the captain of the team then and was very impressed after seeing Saini in the nets. Saini was spotted by former Delhi seamer Sumit Narwal in a local tennis-ball tournament and it was he who asked Gambhir to check the seamer out.
“Gautam bhaiya, Ashish bhaiya (Nehra), Mithun Manhas rallied around me. They said what’s happening in the periphery shouldn’t be my concern. We will take care of that, you only bowl,” he said.
The seamer troubled Bengal with a brilliant display of seam bowling as he kept batsmen guessing on the third day. He, along with Kulwant Khejroliya, ran through the opposition middle-order. For Saini, it was his stint with India A which made him realise his skills.
“I can’t build on muscles as I will lose out on the pace I generate due to my quick hand speed. This is my USP from start. Since I could bowl fuller deliveries with tennis ball, it helps with leather ball as it generates extra pace,” Saini explained.
Recalling his early struggle, Saini said it was difficult to start but things have now changed a bit. He however still travels back home on a Volvo and is yet to buy a car.
“It was difficult in the beginning but now things have changed a bit. I stay with my friends in a rented accommodation in Kotla Mubarakpur. I still go back home by Volvo bus. I haven’t bought a car,” Saini, son of a former Haryana government driver, said.
Saini’s grandfather, Karam Singh, was a driver in Subhas Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj and he has heard plenty of stories from the “nearly 100-year-old”.
“Dadaji is nearly 100 years. He was in Japan with Netaji. I have heard stories so many times that at times, I slip away,” he said cheekily. “But he loves me and is aware when my match is coming on television. Today he watched me bowl,” he said.