By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Rajasthan Royals’ thrilling run-chase against Deccan Chargers at Jaipur was a result of complete teamwork. Rahul Dravid, Ajinkya Rahane and Brad Hodge made crucial 40s to seal a memorable win, but it was Dishant Yagnik who put the cherry on cake with two match-winning strokes in the final over off Dale Steyn.
In an exclusive interview with CricketCountry, he talks about his Indian Premier League (IPL) experience with Rajasthan Royals and his tough cricketing journey.
Excerpts from an interview:
CricketCountry (CC): Since your Ranji Trophy debut in 2004, your journey hasn’t been easy. You have played about 20 first-class spread over eight years – interrupted by a stint in the India Cricket League (ICL). How difficult was it to get to get into the Rajasthan team after the ICL? What was the kind of support you received from your close ones?
Dishant Yagnik (DY): Yes, I was a part of the Indian Cricket League. By the time I returned from ICL, the Ranji Trophy matches had started and I wasn’t selected. At that point I felt dejected, but I kept training hard. Then I got a chance to play the state-level one-day tournament from where players are selected for the Rajasthan team. I scored over 700 runs in the eight or nine games I played in that tournament, and it included a double-hundred – no one else in Rajasthan has scored a double in a one-dayer. That got me back into the Rajasthan team for the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2010. I did well for Rajasthan and settled myself into the team. My family supported me through those tough times as there were occasions I was depressed sitting at home. Udaipur District Cricket Association also supported me. It was difficult because the ICL players were not allowed to practice, but coach Manoj Chaudhary allowed me to practice with him.
CC: You have had a few memorable moments in your career. The last ball six off Sourav Ganguly to win a game for the Central Zone in a Deodhar Trophy game, the stumping Sachin Tendulkar during IPL 2011 and your maiden first-class ton in the quarter-final of the last Ranji Trophy being some of them. Where would your match-winning strokes off Dale Steyn rank alongside them?
DY: Stumping Sachin Tendulkar during the last year’s IPL is the most memorable moment of my career. Hitting a six off the last ball is a huge moment and happens once in a blue moon, but there is a lot of luck involved. Playing cricket with Tendulkar is a huge honour. We grew up watching him play the game. Let alone practice, but to play a game with or against him is a dream come true. To get him out, is “Soney pe Suhaaga,” as the saying in Hindi goes. For me, it’s an outstanding moment of my career. The fours off Dale Steyn may have been a match-winning effort, but the Tendulkar moment stands out. Cricket is a religion in India and Tendulkar is considered a god. If you get to see god, there cannot be a better moment.
CC: The confidence with which you took on Steyn caught everybody's eye. With eight to get off four, some may have said, take the single and give Brad Hodge the strike? Did that thought come into your mind, or you had decided to attack if it was in your slot?
DY: The message was to take a single and give the strike to Hodge. I also felt that if I take a single, he would have to shoulder a lot of pressure. And if he got out, it would have been difficult for us. Initially I was giving him strike, but it struck me why not give it a try if it is a bad ball. If I can get a four or even two or three runs, it would release the pressure. We were one big shot away from victory. With this in mind, I took a chance. As far as confidence is concerned - it is all due to the positive atmosphere in the team. We aren’t worried about the results and concentrated on work ethics and principles.
CC: When you talk of work ethic, Rahul Dravid would have had a huge effect on building it?
DY: Without any doubts. He has retired from international cricket, but even then he practices more than us. A game of T20 lasts for little over three hours, but he bats for three hours on days we have to practice! His work ethics and discipline have become the benchmark for the team.
CC: Last year, you were led by Shane Warne and now it is Dravid. How different are their leadership styles?
DY: Warne was a bit unpredictable as a captain; ideas would come to his mind and he would implement them. He was a gambler in some way. Being unpredictable in T20 is a huge strength as the opposition doesn’t know what to expect. I enjoyed playing with him and he used to motivate us tremendously. Dravid too is someone who promotes and motivates youngsters tremendously. Even when a player is low on confidence, he goes up to him and tells him that because you are the best you are a part of this team.
CC: In the Rajasthan Royals, you have to compete with Sreevats Goswami and Pinal Shah for the wicket-keeper’s spot in the eleven. Similarly, you compete with Rohit Jhalani for Rajasthan in Ranji Trophy. Does the pressure affects you or pushes you to perform?
DY: If you go through my career history, I have always been the second wicket-keeping option. Pick any prestigious tournament I have played in the last eight or nine years – I have always been the understudy. This is why; I always feel that whenever I get a chance, I must prove myself. Early in my Ranji career, I got a chance against Goa and I did well. In the ICL, Paul Nixon played ahead of me, and then when the opportunity came I performed. This trend continued into the last year’s Ranji Trophy. I didn’t play the first few games and when I did, I responded with a century in the quarter-finals. The latest example is the last game I played for Rajasthan Royals. Amit Asawa, the Rajasthan Ranji team coach has backed me a lot when I was on the bench. I have never seen a more passionate coach. He arrives for practice half an hour before the team and leaves half an hour after every one.
CC: How were you introduced to cricket? Who were your role models?
DY: I come from a cricketing family as my great grandfather player cricket with the English. Our house is in a huge complex with a ground. My father has played for the college and was selected for the university. As a child I saw my father and my uncles playing. In memory of my great-grandfather, we used to organise a tournament in Banswara and I saw many cricketers from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in my childhood. As a tradition, I got into cricket when I was six or seven years old. I used to bowl, but since I was short, my coach (Mr Nagar) asked me to stop. That is when I took up wicket-keeping. I have always looked up to Tendulkar and Brian Lara. In wicket-keeping, it is Adam Gilchrist who inspires me. I have met him twice. In fact, my Rajasthan team-mates call me ‘Gilly’!
CC: Although the IPL is criticised by many corners, it does provide the domestic players a chance to rub shoulders with some international stars. What has been your biggest gain from sharing the dressing room with such celebrated names? From a player’s perspective, how different is it from the ICL as there too you played alongside some celebrated names?
DY: India’s pool of raw talent is unparalleled and when the foreign payers come here and play, their attitude and approach should be picked by us. They have a never-say-die attitude at all times, even in the worst situations. It is something I always try to learn. Johan Botha guides me a lot. His attitude is simply great. Even when we are in comfortable situations, he maintains the intensity on the ground, be it bowling or even changing his fielding position. Secondly, in the IPL, we have a number of senior players such as Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly who are mentors of their respective sides. Between the ICL and IPL – it is a difference of the past and present. In the ICL, most of the big names had retired, but here in the IPL we have most of them who are still active. There isn’t a big difference in the quality of cricket, though IPL would be marginally ahead.
CC: Does the glamour and glitz affect you?
DY: All the glamour and the glitz look good for the first few days. Then you realise that you have to perform to remain there as it would last only during the IPL. This is my point of view. I have to work hard during these 45 days.
CC: Rajasthan have a variety of bowlers. There are some good medium- pacers, an express pacer like Shaun Tait and quality spinners. As a wicket-keeper how difficult is it to adjust to the different styles of bowling and keeping pace with the game?
DY: It is sometimes difficult to maintain pace with the game. As a ‘keeper I have to look at five or six aspects at a time. For example, the fielders in the circle, the angles, the batsman’s characteristics, etc. I have to keep the side motivated by pepping them up and the stump microphone would have picked up my voice a number of times. I have to keep to bowlers of different pace, angles etc. It is tough to adjust, but you are here to do that job. I do not have much difficulty against the seamers. Coming to the spinners, I find Brad Hogg very tricky. His flipper and the wrong un come at the same pace and flow from the same action. In pressure situations you cannot slip-up. I’m working on picking his bowling.
CC: Does Hogg signal to you what he would bowl before running in?
DY: No chance, as the batsman may come to know. In T20 you cannot be predictable. Even customised gestures known only to us are not made as the bowler may change his mind in his delivery stride and bowl something completely different.
CC: Rajasthan Royals have started IPL 2012 with a bang. The team’s goals are very obvious. But, what are your personal goals this season?
DY: We take it match by match. We care more about work ethic and efforts. It is difficult to talk about personal goals, but I hope to see me contribute to Royals’ success, similar to my contributions in the Ranji Trophy victory.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)