Dubai: Kings XI Punjab has had a few silver linings in their dismal, trifle unlucky, campaign in the IPL 2020 so far. If the form of their opening pair KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal had been one, the emergence of the 20-year-old Ravi Bishnoi as their main leg spinner had been another.
It has been a dream year so far for the fresh-faced Bishnoi, who had been the highest wicket taker for India in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year where they finished the runners-up and has now picked up eight wickets from seven games in IPL so far with an economy rate of 7.85. Despite having a number of other senior spinners in the ranks, Rahul and head coach Anil Kumble have shown the confidence to toss the ball to him during the power play overs - and Bishnoi has the heart to take up the challenge.
‘‘It’s been a great year for me cricket-wise,’’ says Bishnoi from the beachfront team hotel in Dubai. ‘‘We won the preparation series against South Africa, did well in the World Cup but unfortunately lost the final. Now, I am at the IPL and only hope that healthwise, things should be okay for everyone,’’ he added.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, Bishnoi says that the team has not given up on hopes to make the play-offs yet. ‘‘We were definitely unlucky to have lost the first game in Super Over. If you look at our campaign, you will see that except one game, there were no one-sided losses. I hope it will turn the other day now,’’ he said.
The IPL, according to him, can be one hell of a learning curve - as he found out the hard way in their first leg match against Sunrisers Hyderabad. ‘‘I came on to bowl with both David Warner and Jonny Bairstow in full flow and went for 18 runs in the first over. When I came back in the 16th over, I could dismiss Warner and then Bairtsow in the very next over. It gave me great satisfaction to finish with three for 29 in that match,’’ Bishnoi recalled.
Growing up idolising the likes of Shane Warne and Kumble, it had been a windfall of sorts for Bishnoi to be able to spend nearly three months with the latter in Dubai. ‘‘The two were very different bowlers, but they were such larger-than-life figures. I have been working on the flipper and a few other variations from Anil sir so that I can confuse the batsmen,’’ he revealed.
Agreeing that he is fortunate to make his mark at a time when the T20 format has learnt to value the importance of quality leg spinners in the side, Bishnoi said: ‘‘I think this is a development in the last four-five years. The leg spinner may go for a few runs, but they will get you the wickets as well. They can change the course of the match in one over.’’
Born in Jodhpur of the western Indian state of Rajasthan, a state more famous for it’s rugged terrain and palaces than cricketers, it had been no smooth ride to stardom for him. ‘‘I started as medium pacer at our local Spartans Cricket Academy. Shahrukh Pathan and Pradyot Singh, the two coaches who sacrificed a lot for a few of us, wanted me to try leg spin one day at the nets and that’s how it all began,’’ he recalled.
‘‘However, the academy didn’t have a place to practice. The coaches, believe it or not, left their jobs for us to set up the facility - where I did the labour work also as we were short of money. There were some experts who developed the pitch and the ground, but I was breaking stones or carrying cement to them. Those six months were really tough, but once that academy was made, my formal cricket journey began. The hard work of those years is now paying off,’’ he said.
Soon after impressing at the junior level, Bishnoi was called up in the Rajasthan state team for Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and found his way into the Under-19 national team with a string of eye-catching performances. ‘‘It all happened too quickly and still feels like a dream. However, the journey has begun for me. Once back in India, I want to focus on performing well in domestic cricket and play for senior Indian team in future.
‘‘I am in no hurry, but I will focus on the process and keep myself ready,’’ he added.