By Amrut Thobbi
Ashok Menaria will be one of the many talented cricketers to watch out for in the fifth edition of the Indian Premier League. He caught attention by scalping the prized wicket of Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar in the fourth edition of Indian Premier League (IPL).
The all-rounder’s success is not limited just to the IPL; he has proven his mettle in the Ranji Trophy as well. His three back-to-back centuries in Ranji Trophy last season made the national media sit up and take notice of his talent. Shane Warne hailed Menaria as the next big thing in Indian cricket.
In an exclusive interview to CricketCountry, Menaria talks about Rajasthan’s success story in Ranji Trophy, his contribution to Rajasthan and his dismissal of Tendulkar.
CricketCountry (CC): Rajasthan have won back-to-back Ranji Trophys in 2011-12. What do you attribute this splendid success to?
Ashok Menaria (AM): I think a lot of credit should go to the administration. They take complete care of the players. Last year when I suffered a groin injury, the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) decided to send me to Germany for surgery. Also, the seniors in the team are very supportive; especially our captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar. His contribution has been huge.
CC: After two victories, do you think Rajasthan can now be considered a powerhouse in Indian domestic cricket?
AM: No. You can be a powerhouse only if you have big players from your team representing the country one day. Teams like Mumbai have had five players representing India in the past after winning Ranji Trophy. Until Rajasthan have a major representation in the national team, one cannot say they are force in Indian cricket.
CC: Do you think selectors have been unfair on Rajasthan cricketers?
AM: I wouldn’t say they have been unfair. No matter how many runs you score or take wickets in one Ranji season, you can’t become a polished cricketer overnight. I guess we will have to be more consistent to get an opportunity to play for India.
CC: Following Vineet Saxena’s outstanding 2011-12 season, Sunil Gavaskar felt the national selectors should give the Rajasthan batsman a chance in the Indian team. How important are such accolades to the morale of players?
AM: If you win back-to-back Ranji Trophy, the whole world sits back and takes notice. Now if someone of the stature of Sunil Gavaskar appreciates individual performances, then it’s definitely a morale booster for the entire team.
CC: Your best performance this season has been 230 runs against the Railways in the group stages of the Ranji Trophy. Can you describe that innings?
AM: I was out of form last season. I struggled badly in the two matches preceding the Railways tie. The poorly-prepared pitch made matters worse. But as I played few deliveries, I realised the wicket is not as bad to bat as I thought it would be, and that runs can be scored on the track. I decided to first spend some time on the wicket early and started scoring after a while. The rest is history.
CC: You scored a hundred against Baroda in the second innings of the Ranji Trophy final last year. How do you rate that innings, compared to this year’s double hundred versus the Railways?
AM: I think the hundred scored in the final last year has been my best innings so far because when I arrived to bat our team was in a precarious condition. We were struggling at 60 runs for the loss of four wickets. We were under immense pressure in that match. To score a century under pressure was immensely satisfying for me. It helped my team win which counts more than anything else.
CC: The specialty of this ton was that it was third in a row in the last Ranji season – and that too in your debut Ranji Trophy season. How did you motivate yourself to perform with such splendour as a debutant?
AM: I think playing my natural game was the key. After returning from the surgery in Germany, I was a bit confused as how to approach my batting. Should I play my natural game, which is aggressive, or alter? That was the question bothering me. Our skipper Kanitkar suggested I play my natural game. He opined that whenever I batted aggressively, team’s scoring rate improved. His advice helped and I stuck to my natural style of play which paid dividends.
CC: Tendulkar was stumped off your bowling in IPL 4 which is brilliant, as the maestro has been stumped only once in Test cricket. What were your thoughts on getting the prized wicket?
AM: Obviously I was jubilant. Sachin Tendulkar is my idol, God. Playing with him is an achievement in itself. I got the video of that dismissal which I watch as an inspiration.
CC: In the IPL, you have had the opportunity to brush shoulders with international cricketers like Graeme Smith, Rahul Dravid, and Shane Watson. What did you learn from these cricketers?
AM: Last year was my best cricketing year in both Ranji Trophy and the IPL. The aforesaid cricketers are legends of the game. They are very friendly and cooperative. Moreover, playing with and against players of these statures automatically lifts your game. After playing high quality cricket, the domestic cricket doesn’t seem even half difficult.
CC: In 2009, you were entrusted with the responsibility of captaincy of the India U-19 team on the tour to Australia. You were successful on that tour winning the ODI series 2-1. How was the experience?
AM: It was a great experience as it was the first time I represented India and that too as a captain. This victory was special as it was inAustralia as conditions are challenging to play there.
CC: The IPL 5 will be the first season where Rajasthan Royals will be without Shane Warne. Will it affect team’s performance?
AM: Last year we did well. Unfortunately we lost few matches and ended at the fifth position. This year, the team is quiet strong even without Warne. But I am sure in his absence, Rahul Dravid will do well in leading the team.
CC: What do you think has been Shane Warne’s biggest contribution to Royals?
AM: Discipline. I think he laid the foundation. The set up is there. We just need to implement things that have already been structured.
CC: How do you rate Warne as a captain?
AM: I think he is the best captain for juniors. He gives a lot of confidence to juniors. He shows you how to play big cricket. His ways make you mentally fit.
CC: What can we expect from Ashok Menaria in the IPL 5?
AM: I would like to play with more maturity. Last year I did not deliver as per my potential owing to lack of maturity in my play. I hope I can display better cricket this year.
(Amrut Thobbi, an engineering graduate now pursuing Masters in journalism, is an ardent cricket fan. His passion for writing inspired him to give up a sales and marketing job, which he does not regret. By writing on cricket, he wants to relive his dream of becoming a cricketer. He has also worked as a freelance writer in education and technology sectors)