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Saurabh Kumar’s life journey: Tracked by Bishan Singh Bedi, from Indian Air Force to Indian cricket

Saurabh Kumar has taken 231 first-class wickets from 53 games at an average of 23.98. Saurabh is set to replace Ravindra Jadeja in Bangladesh Test series.

Saurabh Kumar set to replace Ravindra Jadeja in Bangladesh Test Series _ Walking Wicket (Images_ ©Manoj Bookanakere_KSCA)
Saurabh set to replace Jadeja in Bangladesh Test Series (Images: ©Manoj Bookanakere/KSCA)

The moment India’s premier all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja was ruled out of the upcoming two-match Test series against Bangladesh due to an injury that he picked up during Asia Cup 2022, there was little doubt that spin bowling all-rounder, Saurabh Kumar who plays for Uttar Pradesh in the first-class circuit, was in the frontline to be roped in as Jadeja’s replacement.

Saurabh who has 231 FC wickets in 53 games at an outstanding average of 23.98 and an even more staggering strike rate of 53 for a slow left-armer, has been one of those names who has been really consistent in the last few years. In Ranji Trophy 2019-20, Kumar took 44 wickets at 21.09, while he got 51 scalps during the 2018-19 season.

Let’s take a look at his journey that has the power to inspire an entire generation to pursue their passion wearing their hearts on their sleeves, rather than taking the path of a settled job.

From the Indian Air Force to the middle of a cricket field

It is nothing short of a common career dilemma that most of the people have to deal with in their life - pursue their passion or secure a safe future - and Saurabh Kumar went for the kill rather than looking at job security.

But it wasn’t an easy task for him; he was employed with the Indian Air Force (IAF) on sports quota; he had a secure central government job with all the facilities, but his heart always used to push him to play professional cricket and earn that valuable India jersey in the future.

“There comes a moment in life when you have to take a decision; Jo bhi ho lena padhta hai (Whatever is on the plate, you have to grab it),” Kumar, who has been playing the game since the age of 21 when he made his first-class debut against Himachal Pradesh for Services in 2014, expressed in an exclusive interview with PTI. “It was a tough decision to quit Ranji Trophy for the Services; I loved being an Indian Air Force man and part of India’s defence forces, and there was a part of me that felt that I had it in me to work hard and play for India.”

“I was posted in Delhi and I played for Services in the Ranji Trophy for one year (2014-15 season) when Rajat Palliwal was our captain,” Saurabh Kumar, who along with his terrific bowling skills has scored 1721 FC runs in 53 games including couple of centuries and 10 fifties, pointed out. “Since I was a sports quota entry, I didn’t have to do any duty apart from play for Services; If I had quit cricket then I would have had to do full-time duty.”

For any successful person, one thing that matters the most is consistent support from the family and the loved ones, and Saurabh Kumar had got full support from his parents.

“It’s amazing that when I told my parents that I am leaving the Air Force job, they didn’t for once ask me to reconsider (my decision); both were very supportive of my choice,” Saurabh Kumar recollected his old early days in cricket. “It was my decision to leave IAF but when I saw that my parents were supportive, I got a lot of confidence to independently pursue my dream.”

The path to select left-arm spin

Left-arm spin offers a different dimension to the game and there is something extraordinary about a left-arm spinner that makes him a little more special than others.

“Now, we stay in Ghaziabad but during those early days of playing cricket in Delhi, it was a big deal,” recognised Saurabh Kumar who used to travel for almost four hours starting out at 10 o’clock in the morning to National Stadium in New Delhi. “It was tough but that’s what helped me when I look back.”

Saurabh also went on to say that at a young age, it becomes really tough to understand those little things. However, with passion nothing looks difficult.

Saurabh Kumar celebrating a wicket _ Walking Wicket (Images_ ©BCB)
Saurabh Kumar has 231 wickets from 53 First Class games (Images: ©BCB)

The influence of legendary Bishan Singh Bedi

Undoubtedly, most of the left arm spinners always look at master craftsman of left-arm spin and former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi to get inspiration and vital learnings; and one of the turning points for Saurabh was coming under his supervision.

“Bedi sir liked what he saw in my bowling and he introduced me to the nuances of grip and stuff; no major changes as he liked my action and loved the areas I bowled into.”

The mantra that Saurabh got from from Bishan Singh Bedi, “Mehnat mein kami nahi honi chahiye,” which means that there shouldn’t be any short cut to success, helped the former a lot in his career.

In those summer camps, Saurabh used to bowl hundreds of overs, which helped him understand the value of the game. He was picked up by the Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) back in 2017, but he certainly has no regrets of higher Indian Premier League (IPL) bids.

“Zindagi mein upar neeche toh hota rahega; Zaroorat hai toh lage rehne ka. (There will be ups and downs in life but all you need is to hang on),” he expressed.

Outstanding performances for India A against New Zealand A, backed up by excellent opening game against Bangladesh A

Saurabh Kumar was picked up for the home three-match unofficial Test series against New Zealand A, and he showed the world that he was properly ready for the international games. In two matches in the series, Saurabh picked up nine wickets at an average of 16.78 and economy of just over 3 including one five wicket haul.

The scorecard also showed that he was able to get rid of the set batters, and there were few instances where he made quite credible plans according to the weaknesses of the batters before caging them in the net. Most of his wickets were ‘leg before wicket (LBW)’ dismissals which suggests that his strength was to bowl on a straight line and not offering much room to the batters to smash or score runs.

His next assignment was the recently finished game against Bangladesh A, where he picked up nine wickets in the game at an economy of just 1.68 and average of 9.55. During the first innings, he demolished the tail in the blink of an eye, besides sending back the set batter Mosaddek Hossain on 63. He ended up with racy figures of 4/23 from a mere 8 overs.

The story of the second innings, however, was a perfect example of how his hard work through all the seasons of Ranji Trophy has helped him in understanding the different situations of the red ball format. Unlike the first innings, the Bangladesh batters showed proper resilience this time around, and that made the Indian bowlers worked harder to reap the rewards. But Saurabh Kumar was really consistent even in those phases.

Kumar kept bowling according to the plan; it was like putting a handkerchief in the pitch, and kept on bowling on it for the whole day. He ended up with 5/63 in his 43 overs with 18 maiden overs at an economy of just 1.46.

Now, he will love to earn the well-deserved Test cap in the two-match Test series that India play against Bangladesh in December 2022, but even if he doesn’t get it then he will get more opportunities with Australia being scheduled to tour India for a four-match Test series in February-March 2023; but Saurabh Kumar has just changed the perception for an entire generation to pursue their dreams rather than thinking of a settled life only.

After the end of the three-match One Day International series on December 10, both Bangladesh and India will take on each other in a two-match Test series, with the first Test set to commence on December 14 at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chattogram.

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