Features and Interviews

Lala Amarnath Award is a boost: Nayar

Mumbai all-rounder reflects on his Ranji performances last season

With the ability to give his team crucial breakthroughs and making big hundreds, Abhishek Nayar was Mumbai’s go-to man in Ranji Trophy 2012-13. The all-rounder had a dream run as he helped the domestic giants reclaim the coveted trophy. 

With 966 runs at an average of 96.6, comprising three centuries and eight fifties, he was the top-scorer for Mumbai and the second highest run-getter for the season. He also bagged 19 wickets, including a five-wicket haul in the tournament.

The Mumbai cricketer, who picks Jacques Kallis as his all time favourite and also admires Andrew Flintoff, will receive the Lala Amarnath Award for being the best all-rounder in the 2012-13 edition of the trophy.

Speaking to bcci.tv, Nayar said that he has always enjoyed both batting and bowling and finds it frustrating if he can’t do either.

Excerpts from his interview:

What does it mean to receive the Lala Amarnath Award?

It feels special. A lot of hard work was put in last year. I am happy that performances are recognized in some way or the other. It gives you that satisfaction that whatever you have worked hard for in the last year, your performances have been rewarded in some way.

How does it feel that BCCI recgonises the performances in the domestic circuit?

I think it is a big boost that our performances have been considered at this level. It becomes a platform and an eye-opener for everyone to know that there are guys performing at the domestic level as well. And it helps get the recognition that  you need to get into the Indian team.

Would you say that the 2012-13 season was your best?

It is by far the best. My statistics also say that. It is more special because the team won. It doesn’t matter if you do well and the team is on the losing side; it doesn’t give you that kind of satisfaction. The fact that the season was victorious for us was something that was special for me.

An all-rounder is increasingly becoming a rare breed. How have you groomed yourself to become one?

I have never enjoyed only batting or only bowling. I have always enjoyed doing both. I think when I can’t do either of them, it is quite frustrating for me. I have always wanted to bat, bowl or be in the midst of the game. That’s just how I have been since I have been young. So it’s nothing that I have had to do, or something that I have worked on; I have just enjoyed playing cricket and I enjoy being involved in the game, whether that be the bat or ball it’s just enjoyment for me.

Who is your favourite all-rounder?

Without a doubt Jacques Kallis! I used to love Andrew Flintoff, but I think recently the way Jacques Kallis has been performing and the fact that he bats at No.3 after bowling the number of overs that he does, is commendable.

You have batted at different position in the middle-order. How do you work to adapt?

As a batsman you are used to batting at different orders. In my career I have been fortunate to bat almost every position, whether it be opening or batting lower down as night watchman. So that obviously helped add flexibility to my game. I think it is a mindset that you have to adjust to more than anything else. I think everyone’s game is flexible enough to bat in every position. It is just the mindset that you can bat at this position.

Mumbai has lost players through the current season to retirement, national duty and injuries. How do you see your role and responsibility in the scenario?

Responsibility is always has always been there. It has never been the case that seniors are there so the responsibility is not there. You are playing for your state team, playing for a team like Mumbai I think responsibility comes with the job no matter who is playing alongside you or who is not. There is no added pressure at all. You have to make sure that your performances count for the betterment of the team.

Ahead of last season you had worked on your bowling and run-up. How has that helped and shaped?

I am really happy with the way I have been bowling. Obviously, I am coming off an injury now. It’s been three weeks since I have had a good practice session. I have had two sessions for this game (Mumbai vs Maharashtra QF, Ranji Trophy 2013-14). It’s never easy to come back from an injury and get the rhythm that you had prior to that. But I am hopeful that these three days I have worked hard enough to be in good condition to do well in this game.  

Being a key performer for Mumbai last season what confidence do you derive from it?

Well at the start of this season, I had a great season coming in to Ranji Trophy. Obviously I have not had the best of Ranji Trophy but when I played the India A games, when I played the Challengers and all the games for A tours, I think I did exceptionally well. It has been a long season coming in to Ranji Trophy, I have not had the ideal season that I would want to have. But I think I am happy where I am. I understand that there are going to be times that I won’t do well but also understand that my work ethic has to be the same, which it has been. I haven’t gone down on my intensity in any way. I am sure that runs will come and wickets will come, it is just a matter of time. But the important thing is that I have kept my head high and I have worked as hard as I can to do well in every game like when I started the season and likewise in the middle of the season.

With youngsters in the side how does your role change?

It is more about making them comfortable. It is about making sure that they feel part of this team. I try my best to mingle with the guys and make sure I can help them in any way that I can. And make sure that those guys can give their best on the ground and not only that but feel part of this team. I feel it is important that youngsters feel part of the team and feel secure. By secure, not that they take their place for granted but in the sense that they can say what they want to, they can act freely, they don’t have to think who they are talking in front of; whether Abhishek is there or Wasim (Jaffer) is there they can still crack the same jokes. That’s something that I try hard for the guys to be comfortable with.

Features and Interviews

Ishwar Pandey – destiny’s child

The journey from a science classroom to the Indian dressing room

He was born on the 15th of August – India’s Independence Day – to an army officer in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh. He studied science in high school at the insistence of his academic-minded father and cricket was only a leisurely activity played with a tennis ball.

But when he bowled with a leather ball for the first time – at a trial during the summer vacation of 12th standard – Ishwar Pandey’s destiny was sealed. What transpired in the next five years has led to his maiden India call-up in both Test and ODI squads, for the tour of New Zealand.

For Ishwar, 2014 is, indeed, a very happy new year. “There cannot be a bigger new year gift for a cricketer than to be selected for the national team.”

A fast bowler standing 6’2 feet, Ishwar has inherited his strong physique from his father. The rest is a result of the joy he derives from bowling and the hard yards he has put into it. In 31 first-class matches, Ishwar has 131 wickets at an average of 24.43. As India cricket strives to strengthen its fast bowling reservoir, Ishwar is a worthy addition to the pack.

“It is special to be named in both Test and ODI squads,” he told bcci.tv. “I have been doing well at the first-class level and the Test call-up is the reward for that. Selection in the ODI squad goes to show the faith the selectors have in my abilities.”

Ishwar’s journey to the Indian squad comprises of some fascinating twists and turns. “There was never any thought of joining the army but my father wanted me to concentrate on studies and get a decent job,” he recalls.

“I loved playing cricket since I was a kid but I never really thought of making it a career. I played Under-19 and one thing led to another. When I actually chose to take cricket as a profession, it was difficult to convince my father at first. But eventually he understood.”

Once the decision was made, Ishwar didn’t have to think twice before choosing his area of expertise – fast bowling.

“I used to both bat and bowl when playing tennis-ball cricket. But once I started to play with the leather ball, I found that batting was much tougher than bowling. Bowling was more fun and I think it came naturally to me.”

When it was time for the natural abilities to be nurtured, Ishwar found some fine mentors. “My university coach Aril Anthony played a big role in developing me as a fast bowler. The next big thing that happened to me was joining the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai. I will forever thank Amay Khurasia who spotted me during my U-19 days and took me there.

“I have been training there for four years, working with Dennis Lillee, and now Glen McGrath. During the IPL, as part of the Pune Warriors, I had guidance of Allan Donald. I have idolized McGrath for a long time and he worked on fine-tuning my technique. The small things he taught me helped me perfect my outswing, which has always been my strength.”

The most significant turn in Ishwar’s cricketing journey came in 2012-13, when he finished as the highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy, with 48 wickets at 21.06. Those numbers helped him book a berth in the India A squad to South Africa where he picked 11 wickets in two first-class matches and five in as many List A games. It was Ishwar’s first competitive cricket overseas.

“I had done reasonably well in my first two Ranji Trophy seasons but it was the 2012-13 season that became the turning point of my career,” he said. “I got a chance to tour South Africa with India A team and I did well there too. It was the first time I got a taste of those conditions and I did well there. I didn’t try to alter my bowling too much, just stuck to the way I bowl in India.”

As any pace bowler would be, Ishwar is glad that his first international tour is to New Zealand, a country where his kind thrives.

“It is great that my first international tour is of a country like New Zealand where fast bowlers have an edge. Irrespective of whether I get a game or not, I will get to learn so much on that tour. I am also looking forward to spending some more time with Zaheer Khan – he gave me some fine tips during the South Africa A tour,” he said.

Ishwar is as keen to learn and evolve, as any young cricketer would be. But the 24-year-old is also very clear in what he wants from his game.

“I bowl at 130-135 kph and swing the ball well. Rather than trying to bowl faster, I would prefer to improve on my swing and accuracy while maintaining my current pace.”