The last seven years have been a blur for Indian cricket’s latest pace sensation Navdeep Saini. From arduous gym sessions and bowling at full tilt in front of packed stadiums to the constant travel, there was hardly a moment to draw breath.
However, the current nation-wide lockdown has brought life to a grinding halt for the 27-year-old. It has confined Navdeep to his duplex home in his hometown of Taraori in Haryana’s Karnal district since the second week of March, with parents and nonagenarian grandfather for company. Navdeep is not complaining though. If anything, the current situation has given him rare, quality time to spend with his family.
“What’s happening right now is quite unprecedented. I’ve been staying at my residence with my family for close to two months now. I have to admit that I miss being in action… but I have not been cut off from my friends and team-mates,” the pacer tells The Indian Express.
He keeps in touch with his India and Delhi team-mates over Whatsapp and video calls. These days, he spends a lot of time playing PUBG, a popular online game that’s caught the fancy of the Indian cricket team, and also binges on Hollywood and Punjabi movies. By his own admission, Navdeep loves watching the 2006 period action drama ‘300’ and light-hearted comedies starring popular Punjabi actor Jaswinder Bhalla on the loop.
The time away from the game has given him an opportunity to sit back, pause and reflect on life. Navdeep admits that as an Indian citizen, he has “done his bit” in the fight against the coronavirus, but prefers not to talk about it. “I know for a fact that a lot of current cricketers have done their bit in the fight against this pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they will announce it on social media. Nobody is craving for publicity in these times,” he explains.
This period has also given Navdeep time to look back at his most recent performances in New Zealand. In the two T20Is and an equal number of ODIs, he could manage only two scalps. The silver lining though was his batting, particularly the whirlwind 45 that he scored in an ODI at Eden Park.
“Before that match, our throwdown specialist Raghu noticed that I was middling everything I was facing. Our batting coach (Vikram Rathour) also chipped in with inputs. All that helped me on match day,” he recalls. According to Navdeep, the biggest takeaways from the tour were his improved game awareness and learning to bowl according to match situations.
For fast bowlers like him, this period of uncertainty has thrown up a lot of challenges, particularly in maintaining fitness and bowling rhythm. Most of them are holed up in their apartments in big cities. This hardly offers any space for training.
Navdeep, though, is blessed on that front. His duplex home has a yard at the rear that offers ample space for training. In the midst of binge movie watching and video calls, Navdeep has been running around and indulging in a bit of shadow bowling to keep himself fit. “Under these circumstances, this is the best I could do, because I have to find ways to train and maintain my fitness levels so that whenever international cricket resumes, I will be ready,” he asserts.
Ashish Nehra, former India pacer and the bowling coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore reckons that fast bowlers need to indulge in running and a bit of shadow bowling to maintain their fitness levels.
“Lack of running time for fast bowlers is an issue during this period of lockdown. This situation is unavoidable. If anyone has a garden space, they should do shuttle run thrice a week… you can do as much of yoga or free weights, but a fast bowler’s life is nothing without good running time,” Nehra had told Press Trust of India, before adding: “It’s not just about heart rate, but also about bowling muscles like hamstring, glutes, groin and calf, which remain activated by running. A bit of shadow bowling can help in visualization.”
Navdeep had also installed a makeshift gym at his residence before the shutdown. “Thankfully, I managed to set up a gym at home just before the lockdown was imposed. It’s mostly cardio, a bit of free weights and some light running,” he explains.
If anyone had doubts about Navdeep’s fitness levels, a video posted by Royal Challengers Bangalore, his IPL franchise, on Instagram some time ago will change their mind. It shows the pacer performing a delicate balancing act on nine pedestals of Coca Cola cans. Within one hour, close to 40,000 ‘hearts’ were touched on the followers’ touchscreens. A little later, the franchise came up with a dare: “If this post gets one lakh likes, we will request Navdeep to flaunt his abs.”
In an ideal scenario, the fast bowler would have been going through the high-octane IPL grind, hurling thunderbolts at more than 145kmph. But the tournament has been postponed indefinitely. “It’s not about the IPL getting postponed or any other sporting events getting cancelled. The danger this virus poses is immense and I think the safety of people is paramount now,” Navdeep feels.
He is hopeful of cricket resuming in another four months. With the current IPL season getting postponed indefinitely, he is hoping for a truncated version ahead of the still-scheduled ICC T20 World Cup in Australia in October, which could serve as ideal preparation for the global event.
Given the grim situation, this may well seem like wishful thinking. Until then, there will be more video calls and binge movie watching for this pacer from Taraori.