Updated: February 4, 2020 8:24:53 am
RAVI Bishnoi still recalls the day when he rushed outside Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur, crossed the road, past a tea stall, and into a small untenanted space and broke down. He was still teary eyed when he reached his home and startled by the sight, his father Mangilal, called his coach Shahrukh Pathan and said, “Mera bacha mujhe vaapis de do (please give back my son)”.
Pathan knew the reason behind the tears: yet another rejection in a cricket trial in Rajasthan Under-19 circuit. The legspinner was sent back after bowling just four balls. The father, a headmaster at a school, couldn’t bear his son’s hurt and Pathan, a former Rajasthan U-19 player and a coach, convinced the father and son that they had to persevere, fight on.
The 19-year-old Jodhpur boy has become India’s breakthrough man for India U-19 team; in three games he has taken 10 wickets, twice getting four-wicket hauls. But the journey to the world cup in South Africa has been anything but easy.
For the last three years, Bishnoi had been training year-long and would walk in for trails and would walk back dejected. In fact, the weariness had set in because though he was picked for two games in U-16 in 2016-17, he wasn’t given an opportunity to play despite Rajasthan failing to qualify for knock-out stage. And during his formative cricketing years, the context of turmoil within the association, after Indian board had banned them after Lalit Modi was elected in 2013, didn’t help either.
By 2018, two groups had claimed to be the RCA stake holders and two selections trials were called. Bishnoi had taken 15 wickets in five selection matches in the period leading up to the big selection trials. The Indian board too had organised a selection match and Bishnoi taken five wickets and hit a hundred while opening. But that effort wasn’t enough for him to get into U-19 or even get a fair chance at the main trials.
That’s when he broke down.
“I just kept crying thinking why they are doing this to me? I wasn’t given a chance, and when I got, I had performed but I still wasn’t picked. You need an opportunity to become big, right? (Bada ban-ney ke liye ek mauka toh chahye na). I was shooed away after taking first step,” Bishnoi recalls those down times.
Seeing how the youngest of his four kids was on the edge emotionally, his father decided it would be for the best if Bishnoi focussed on studies and forget about cricket.
It was then that the coach 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. Such was his golden run that he was picked by Kings XI Punjab for Rs 2 crores.
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 doesn’t has 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 legspinner 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 is a leg spinner if you go by book than 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 legspinner 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 in, not much time for the batsmen to adjust,” Pathan says.
“If you have seen the U-19 World Cup games, you can see a few batsmen seem to realise that the ball is going to come in but the skid and the pace at which it comes, has made things difficult for them. You can’t play Ravi on backfoot, he will invariably rush on to the pads. Since the action and release is so natural for him, the speed on the ball does the trick,” Pathan says. A few years ago, some coaches at the RCA had tried to change his action, to get it more conventional, but Pathan convinced him not to listen to them. “Listen to them, say yes yes but don’t change.”
Some coaches had tried to change him into a more regular leggie, making him practise flighting the ball for hours and hours. “But he is a different style of bowler and I told him to stick to his strengths.”
A little bit of help from Rahul Dravid at the National Cricket Academy too has helped. Dravid advised against changing 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 you. 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 the coaches Pathan and Singh. For a boy who used to play at a RTO ground where the ticketed (challan) 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.” Master-ji ka ladka is making the father proud these days.
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