It is said cricketers usually begin to peak at the age of 27. This is when they become aware of their strengths and weaknesses, after having gained a certain level of experience while plying their trade either at the domestic or international level. Roosh Kalaria, the left-arm pacer from Gujarat, has hit this phase. A World Cup winner at 19, he was a India A regular till 2015. He may not have a plum IPL contract now, and in the last five years, he has seen the hugely talented and irrepressible team-mate Jasprit Bumrah make waves at the global stage. But Kalaria continues to plough away tirelessly at the domestic circuit. The retirement of RP Singh and the absence of Bumrah has now put the spotlight on the indefatigable workhorse.
In this Ranji season, Kalaria has been Gujarat’s leading wicket-taker — his disciplined, incisive bowling handing him 29 scalps from six matches. His performance has played a vital role in his team earning 26 points and being on the cusp of the knockouts qualification. It’s little wonder then that this 27-year-old has been the 2017 Ranji Trophy champions’ go-to man in their duel against Delhi at the Feroz Shah Kotla. Kalaria’s 5/78 in the first innings played a vital role in restricting the home team to a below-par score of 293 (they were 270/5 at one stage).
In reply, Gujarat rode on the blistering stroke-play from Manpreet Juneja (88 not out) and wicket-keeper batsman Dhruv Raval (83 not out) that took them to a comfortable 269/4 at stumps on Day 2, and just 24 runs adrift. But credit needs to be given to Kalaria’s performance on Wednesday, especially the manner in which he exploited the early morning conditions in Kotla and running through Delhi’s brittle lower-order.
Of late, Kalaria has shown that when conditions are in his favour, he becomes a difficult proposition. It’s these seven years of the grind at first-class cricket that’s hardened him into such a resourceful bowler. Kalaria may not be express pace but he is blessed with a smooth action that culminates into a lovely leap at the crease, which not only helps him extract movement off the track but also gets a disconcerting bounce. “There was help from the wicket, especially in the morning and I just managed to hit that line and length. This helped me bag those wickets,” he said at the end of the day’s play.
Apart from his bowling, Kalaria has also worked on his batting. His doughty contributions lower down the order have often given his team that extra cushion of around 25 runs. This season, he has registered scores of 37, 36, 25 and 26 in the five matches so far. It’s further proof of his maturity as a cricketer.
“I guess after you keep playing at this level for a considerable period of time, you become more aware of your body and skills,” he explained. Kalaria has not been a one-man army for Gujarat though, having a formidable bowling line-up along with the likes of Chintan Gaja and Arzan Nagwaswalla. “We have a compact team and our there’s a great level of understanding amongst us. If you notice, barring a few retirements, we have the same set of players who have been playing together since our U-19 days. This has worked for us,” the pacer noted.
The bonhomie and the bonding maybe this team’s unifying force, but they have also benefited by Bumrah’s rare visits.
“Whenever he is not playing, he makes it a point to visit us and talk to the team. He is still such an integral part of our squad. It’s not pep talk as such when Bumrah is involved. It’s more to do with the mindset required to play international cricket.”
Bumrah’s ascent serves as an inspiration for Kalaria. It motivates him to keep doing what he knows best — keep taking wickets, season after season. The Ahmedabad native knows that this is the only way that can keep him in the national reckoning. “Playing for India is my dream. But one splendid season alone cannot guarantee a call-up. The competition is so intense that you have to keep taking wickets,” he concluded.
Despite the constant national snubs, Kalaria’s performances are testimony to his mental fortitude. It’s a far cry from someone like Unmukt Chand, his U-19 World Cup captain, who is out of favour with the Uttarakhand team, and is now seen and heard, more in the commentary box.
Brief Scores: Gujarat 269/4 (Manprit Juneja 88 batting, Dhruv Raval 83 batting, Samit Gohel 51, Simarjeet Singh 2/53) trail Delhi 293 (Kunwar Bidhuri 78, Himmat Singh 56, Roosh Kalaria 5/78) by 24 runs.
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