One more potential star in the making is fast bowler Navdeep Saini. The lanky pacer has quickly gained the attention of the selectors after an outstanding season, taking 29 wickets in 7 matches at an average of 22 in India’s premier domestic tournament, the Ranji Trophy.
Statistics though tell only half the story as his raw pace and movement has shown the glimpses of what looks like a promising future.
“My idols are Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson, I want to be known as an aggressive bowler. I want to concentrate on my pace as well as the line and length. I will not compromise on my pace,” Saini, who clocked above 140kph consistently this season, tells CricketNext in an exclusive chat.
He was first spotted by another Delhi bowler from Karnal, Sumit Narwal. Playing local cricket in the same district, Saini had never thought of pursuing the sport professionally.
“I never joined any academy. I didn’t have any money, then Karnal Premier League (organized by Narwal) took place. I fought with my father for Rs 400, which was the entry fees for the trial,” he reveals.
Saini impressed everyone with his performance and caught the eye of Narwal, who invited him to join the academy. “I never told him that I didn’t have the money to join, then next year I again played the league, again Narwal bhaiya called me and this time I told him the truth - that I can’t afford to join the academy,” he said.
Narwal then took him under his wings and the two trained together at Karan Stadium in Karnal.
“Narwal bhaiya then invited me as a net bowler for the Delhi team. I went out of curiosity, I just wanted to see what international players looked like, that’s when I saw Gautam Gambhir for the first time and bowled to him,” a rather candid Saini admits.
“Gambhir bhaiya asked me where I play, I told him that I have never gone to any academy, I just came with Narwal bhaiya. Then, he told me to keep coming regularly for net practice,” he adds.
From that point onwards, there was no looking back for Saini, as he soon made his way into the Delhi team.
But as is always the case with any cricketer in Delhi, young Saini was let down by the administration and more the DDCA.
Stories of Saini being an “outsider” who had denied an opportunity to local Delhi boys started doing rounds in the media.
“I always played under extra scrutiny and greater pressure. But seniors in the team like Gautam bhaiya never let me feel that pressure. He fought to take me in the team” the bowler adds.
Saini was among the players, along with Nitish Rana and Unmukt Chand who Gambhir allegedly fought for against Delhi coach KP Bhaskar last year. The heated fight made the headlines and even led to Gambhir being handed a four-match ban and also losing his captaincy to younger Rishabh Pant this season.
However, the lanky bowler kept on putting impressive performances one after another and he was soon drafted into the India ‘A’ team. Delhi Daredevils also picked him up for Rs 10 lakh in the previous IPL.
There, he came under the guidance of Rahul Dravid and former India bowler Zaheer Khan, who acted as perfect mentors for the 25-year-old.
“Their advice was simple. They told me to focus on my line and length as that would help me pick wickets. I put in a lot of hours in training. In fact, earlier I could only bowl upto 130-135 kph, but sustained training helped me reach 140-145 kph. I used to also get injured frequently but luckily this year, I have managed to stay injury free,” Saini says.
It was his remarkable spell against Bengal that helped Delhi reach the final of the Ranji Trophy for the first time in a decade. He ended with 7/90, his best performance of the season.
“My grandfather watched the match on TV, he was very happy seeing my performance. I have a special bond with him. He is always happy when he sees me,” an emotional Saini said, talking about his grandfather, who also served in the Indian national army along with Subash Chandra Bose.
There is still a long way to go for Saini, if he hopes to make a mark in international cricket and he realises that. “I know I have to train very hard. I have to keep myself injury free and keep working on improving my bowling,” he admitted.
The next challenge for him will be the big final, where Delhi will start as firm favourites against Vidarbha – who are making their maiden appearance in the Ranji Trophy final. Saini is confident of putting up a good show.
“We have benefitted from being a young side. All the boys are young and we are very confident. We can’t assure that we will win, but we can assure that we will give our 110 per cent,” he signed off.
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First Published: December 26, 2017, 9:32 AM IST