The semi-final against Tamil Nadu was an indication of Abhishek Nayar’s role in the team – that of absorbing the pressure. Besides claiming a four-for, he scored a vital half-century to help the team to a first innings lead. The all-rounder has scored 462 runs at an average of 42 and picked 21 wickets in the ongoing season.
In the post-match presentation after the semi-final win where in a span of few minutes he was referred to as ‘Nayri’ by skipper Aditya Tare, while debutant Prithvi Shaw referred to him as ‘Nayar sir’ is representative of his role and his journey with Mumbai over the years. He is the go-to man for newcomers as well as the ones who have been around for a long time. The senior-most member of the team has been the binding force for Mumbai, especially over the last two seasons.
How would you sum up the season leading up to the final?
It has been a season of up-and-down in terms of having a settled team. We have played good cricket; we have come out of difficult situations throughout the season. From a team management point of view, the most important thing has been to make sure that everyone who comes into the team feels welcomed. I think the biggest challenge for us as a team was to make sure that everyone who comes in doesn’t feel like an outsider or that his place is at stake. That is something that Adu (Aditya Tare), Chandu sir (coach, Chandrakant Pandit) and I had focussed on. We have always focussed on having a good team environment in the dressing room where everyone looks after each other.
Reflecting on the season, I think it has been incredible to play the final in spite of missing out on key players during important games. Coming from behind in a lot of games, being in commanding position, then losing the advantage but fighting back and managing to hold on. None of our batsmen have scored more than 650 runs, so it tells us that it has been a complete team effort to get here.
What helps Mumbai come out on top almost every season?
I think it is the hunger. I think every cricketer who comes in has gone through a lot to get that opportunity. The amount of struggle that a cricketer has to go through to get an opportunity to represent Mumbai is what makes them fight so hard and that is something that also that stands out. We have a history and a legacy of great cricketers and winning the Ranji Trophy so many times. I think everyone realizes what it takes to be part of the team and we try to make sure that they understand what it takes to be a part of this team; representing Mumbai and wearing the logo on your chest. It is something that we take a lot of pride in and make sure everyone who comes in understands the importance.
You have always spoken about creating an impact. How have you worked towards it?
I have always mentally prepared for tough situations. I always try and do that leading up to a game. I believe that your character stands out in tough situations. Often, when you are representing Mumbai and when you are playing in the Ranji Trophy, you are going to be put under pressure situations.
The seven months (after) when I underwent a surgery, I remember (there was not) one day that I (didn't) think of what I am going to face this season and the challenges that are going to be thrown at me. So, every day that I wasn’t practicing or playing, I was preparing in my mind for different match situations.
I think that preparation has helped me and kept me good stead, because looking back now I think I am prepared for any situation. I don’t feel surprised if I am put in a pressure situation since I kind of anticipated and prepared for it. If you prepare well, it helps overcome that. I know that my role in the team is to absorb pressure. I have been given that role and I try to make sure that I fulfill it to the best of my ability.
Do you thrive on being the crisis man?
I think so! The first time when I made my comeback, we had lost three matches and we were looking at relegation. I think from there I had a brilliant season and we ended up winning the Ranji Trophy. Since childhood I have always enjoyed fighting and have enjoyed challenges that have been thrown at me.
My life has been such where nothing has come easy. I can’t sit back in my house and take anything for granted. The belief that I am going to go into a match and do well. I prepare and plan. Imagine what I want to do, understand what my body is like, understand what the opposition is like. Only after I do all that kind of preparation is when I have a chance to succeed. Every day that I get to play the sport, I try and make the most of it.
What is your training routine?
I am a very flexible person. I don’t believe in having a schedule where I do the same thing. I try and understand before every tournament what my body is like, what my mental state is and I try and figure out what I require to do before a game.
I might look at the videos of the opposition and my own videos. I do a lot of meditation so those are the things that I focus on. To mentally prepare myself, I stand behind the nets when the guys are practicing. I think it is a very mental game during the season. In the off-season, I work really hard so that my season becomes relatively easy. I live by this motto that if I ever had to do a job, it would be a 9 to 5 job, so if I am playing cricket, I try to give my game six to eight hours a day.
How have you managed your workload since you have also been bowling long spells?
I love to be a workhorse for the team. I would go any distance for this team. We have a good support staff. I make sure I come and meet Ashish Kaushik (physiotherapist) and we also have a physiotherapist on board. After having played so much, you understand your body a lot better. I try and monitor myself and understand that this is what my body requires. Whether I need to rest or train? If I feel I am not feeling strong enough before a game, I will go and do a couple of sessions and make sure my diet is right. If I need a change, I will go and watch a move.
What’s your strategy while batting with the tail?
I have always loved batting with the tail. I think batting with the tail-enders is the best thing. What people often don’t realise is that it is not the most difficult thing because the opposition focuses so hard on getting the tail-enders out, that they don’t try to get you out. All the pressure is on the tail-ender so all you have to do is shield him. For a guy who understands his game, I back myself and I try and hit a boundary in every two – three balls and then try to rotate the strike. Also, we really push all our tail-enders to bat a lot in the nets. So, I think that way at least they are good enough to defend the ball if nothing more, that’s the basic expectation we have from a tail-ender. Sometimes, I feel if you are batting well than batting with a tail-ender can be better than batting at with a number three for four.