Cricket - Saurabh Kumar
Saurabh Kumar, a surprise pick in the Indian Test squad for the home series against Sri Lanka, tosses one up at the nets for Punjab Kings in IPL last year. Image Credit: Twitter

Kolkata: Saurabh Kumar who? One could not fault the average Indian cricket fan for the question when the left-arm spinner from Uttar Pradesh was the only surprise named in the 18-member squad for the two-Test series against Sri Lanka, starting in Mohali on March 4.

When the squad was named last Saturday, the 28-year-old’s selection could not garner much spotlight with Rohit Sharma being named as the Test skipper and a number of other major decisions, but this has allowed the newcomer to pass the under the radar and settle down for his quarantine period in Chandigarh. ‘‘It’s a big break for me and I am mentally ready - should any opportunity come along,’’ he said over phone from his hotel room before heading out for his first practice session.

It was on the third day of the UP-Vidarbha Ranji Trophy match in Gurugram that Saurabh learnt about the news of his selection and the ripples of excitement is yet to die down. A brush with the likes of superstars like Virat Kohli, Rohit or senior spinner Ravi Ashwin will not be exactly new for him for as a prolific wicket-taker in the domestic crcuit, he was drafted in as one of the net bowlers during the South Africa tour late last year. He had also acquitted himself well during India A tour of South Africa in 2021.

Speaking to Gulf News exclusively over phone, Saurabh said: ‘‘I rely on the loop and turn of a left-arm orthodox spinner and has been an admirer of Ravi bhai’s (Ravindra Jadeja) bowling. As I now stay in Delhi, I have also spent a lot of time with the legendary Bishan Singh Bedi to understand the finer points of the art.’’

When asked about a quote attributed to him the day after his selection that he does not bowl ‘‘carrom-varrom’’ balls, he answered with an embarrassed laugh: ‘‘It’s something which I had said casually before. The point I was trying to make was that I do not believe in trying too many experiments and believe in the virtues of the traditional left-arm spin.’’


The son of a retired junior engineer in All India Radio in the small town of Baghpat, Saurabh’s journey began with the Services team in the 2014-15 season as he could not break into a UP side full of seniors. The next season, he announced his arrival in an emphatic fashion when he took 10 wickets in his first game against Gujarat in 2015-16.

In the last Ranji season of 2019-20 before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted life, Saurabh took 44 wickets at 21.09 while he returned with 51 wickets the previous season. He also bagged 19 wickets in the Duleep Trophy and till date, has played 46 first class matches where he has taken 196 wickets along with scoring 1572 runs.

The rigours of domestic cricket has taught him the virtues of patience and it shows in the returns - he has taken five wickets in an innings 16 times and 10-plus wickets in a match six times. His best figures in an innings is seven for 32 and a a match haul of 14/65. He has also scored two centuries and eight half-centuries with an average of 29.11.

Though not a bunny with the bat, Saurabh does not fancy himself as an allrounder. ‘‘I would rate myself as a bowler who can bat,’’ said a candid Saurabh, who was a a member of the Punjab Kings team in the 2021 IPL but didn’t get a game.

The disruption in Ranji schedule had, like hundreds of players like him, planted a seed of doubt in his mind but he tried to stay as positive as he can. ‘‘I told myself that this has to end sometime and used the phase to work on my fitness and bowling,’’ added Saurabh.

A call-up in the playing XI looks a long shot with Saurabh being effectively the fifth choice (Ashwin - subject to fitness, Jadeja, Jayant Yadav and Kuldeep Yadav are part of the squad), but he is yet another example of the growing tribe of India’s small town cricket heroes.