By Navneet Mundhra
Robin Bist is the new star on the horizon of Indian cricket. He lit up this year’s Ranji Trophy season by his luminous performance and emerged as the top run-getter - 1034 runs at an astounding average of 86.16. He smashed four centuries and an equal number of half-centuries to become the 12th batsmen - the first batsman from Rajasthan - in the history of Ranji season to notch up more than 1000 runs in a season. His scintillating show with the bat was largely instrumental in Rajasthan lifting the coveted trophy second time in a row.
His resplendent performance drew laurels from no less an authority than Sunil Gavaskar. The maestro urged the national selection committee to have a look at Bist and Vineet Saxena, Rajasthan’s opening batsman and the second highest run-getter (897 runs) this Ranji season. Bist was selected to play for Central Zone in the Duleep Trophy and he performed an encore in the semi-final against South Zone. He scored a magnificent century and propelled his team into the final.
At a time when a number of Indian ageing stars are on the cusp of retirement, Bist is touted as one of the contenders who has the potential to step into one of those big shoes. He has earned the reputation of being one of the most accomplished batsmen against spinners in India. His team-mates and opponents swear by his twinkling footwork and his ability to take the spinners to the cleaners. Though, he is considerably adept against pace bowling as well. He doesn’t “pull” any punches on and off the field. On the field, he plays pull shot with panache, his favourite stroke; off the field, he is as forthright about his feats as he is about his shortcomings and failures.
He radiates confidence and poise in equal measure. For someone who is the chief architect of his team’s glory, he remains refreshingly modest. He credits his Rajasthan team-mates, and most importantly his captain, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, for infusing self-belief in him.
Thoughts tumble out of his mind like the torrential rainfall and he ricochets from one subject to other exhibiting the whole spectrum of his eloquence. He never misses an opportunity to intersperse the conversation with sparkling humour while adding the touch of philosophy.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview with CricketCountry:
CricketCountry (CC): This year you have secured a place among handful of cricketers who have the distinction to rack up more than 1,000 runs in a Ranji season. Has the feeling sunk in?
Robin Bist (RB): I am glad that I attained the milestone of 1,000 runs in a Ranji season, but what gave me more satisfaction is that I made a significant contribution in my team’s triumph in the Ranji Trophy. Team’s performance is always more important than personal milestones. Personal milestones happen along the way when you’re striving to do best for the team. Had my team not benefitted from my performance, the personal success would have been bland.
CC: You were fairly consistent in the last season as well and scored five half-centuries, but couldn’t convert them into big hundreds. What demons did you exorcise to unleash four centuries this time around?
RB: There are two aspects to this; technical and mental. As far as technique goes, I was trifle weak on the back foot. My team-mates and coach pointed this out to me. I worked on it earnestly and overcame my Achilles’ heel.
Regarding the mental attitude, I was slightly easy-going guy till last year. But the stirring upheavals in my personal life during the last one year transformed me completely. I became more determined and focused. Also, it dawned upon me that if I can score 70s and 80s and 90s, then why not hundred? One needs substantial skills to score fifties consistently; it’s all about carrying the momentum further, and not losing your concentration at the critical juncture. I also realised that mere fifties would not do much good to my team. One must go on and score huge hundreds once you have got your eyes in. This realisation alone and the revamped mindset went a long way in me knocking off a string of hundreds.
Every cricketer evolves with the passage of time, but I’m elated that I have also evolved as a person in the last one year. For me, it’s equally important to be a good and mature human being besides being a good cricketer.
CC: Any particular shot or shots from this season which you still remember and will always cherish?
RB: When I was batting on 90 in the game against Railways, I stepped out and whacked the ball for six; I followed it with a boundary on the next ball to bring up my hundred. Those two shots will always remain etched in my memory. In the last season, I got out in 90s a couple of times, so I decided that I wouldn’t be stuck in 90s this time, and will complete it as soon as possible. That century against Railways opened the floodgates for me, and I went on to score five centuries, four in Ranji Trophy, in this domestic season.
CC: You are touted as the next big thing of Indian cricket. Sunil Gavaskar heaped plaudit upon you and urged selectors to acknowledge your performance.
RB: Coming from a man of his eminence and stature, I’m thrilled. But I have no delusions of grandeur about myself. I know that I have a long way to go. I can’t rest upon my laurels. I’ll take inspiration from my performance this season, and will make an endeavour to come up with the even better show next year.
There is a lot of competition around in the domestic circuit, which is a good sign for Indian cricket. One must be exceptionally consistent to break into the Indian team and then retain your place in the team. Public memory is proverbially short. Few mediocre performances and one runs the risk of fading into the oblivion. Consistency is the key in any sport and cricket is no different.
CC: Who are the people behind your phenomenal success?
RB: I was born and brought up in New Delhi, but I chose to play for Rajasthan as I felt I was not getting ample opportunities inDelhi. I would like to thanks Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) for showing faith in me and supporting me unstintingly. Another person without whose assistance, I wouldn’t have played for Rajasthan is Mr. Rajinder Singh Nandoo, secretary of Nagaur Cricket Association. They are the ones responsible for making it happen for me to play for Rajasthan. Also, Mr. Amit Asawa - the coach of the Rajasthan team - for working diligently with me and guiding me. Support of all the team-mates was heartening, and then of course, our captain, Hrishi bhaiya (Hrishikesh Kanitkar).
Hrishi bhaiya has always been like a big brother and a mentor. Whenever I feel low, he talks to me and gives me immense confidence. It is very motivating for a youngster to know that his captain has unswerving faith in his abilities. During the Ranji Trophy final against Tamil Nadu, I needed 58 runs to reach the milestone of 1,000 runs in the season when our second innings started. Hrishi bhaiya bats at No. 3 in our team, but that day he sent me at No. 3 so I that could accomplish the milestone of 1,000 runs. He told me, “You have a long career ahead, and this milestone will give the boost to your career, and will also fetch you monumental recognition. So, go out there, bat the way you do, enjoy yourself and soak in the glory.” I was mighty overwhelmed by his gracious gesture and magnanimous words. Having played cricket for five years, I can tell you, few cricketers are as selfless and kind as him.
CC: Rajasthan started this Ranji season on a tepid note, and conceded the first innings lead in first five matches. Wasn’t that a stunning effort to come out of the pit and pull off the glorious victory?
RB: That’s a truly remarkable feat. It shows the resilience and mental fortitude of the team. Coming from a hopeless position, we didn’t lose hope and had the last laugh. Frankly, the credit goes to the whole team and also the supporting staff. Though, we conceded the lead in the first five matches, there was no negativity in the team. Everyone knew that we didn’t perform despicably; it’s just that our bowling didn’t click. From there on, our bowling clicked, and we sailed through. Of course, luck also favoured us in qualifying for the knock-outs, but didn’t we deserve a bit of luck for our never-say-die attitude and steadfast conviction?
Also, the role of the captain is intrinsic. Hrishi bhaiya is always willing to lend the helping hand whenever I need. His cricketing acumen is exceptional, and he’s a calm person. His phlegmatic demeanour rubs off on all the members of the team. He genuinely enjoys the success of his team-mates and has got the respect and support of the whole team. Team is a united unit under his edifying and dynamic leadership.
CC: Who is your favourite cricketer?
RB: Sachin Tendulkar is everyone’s favourite, it goes without saying. Apart from him, I like Ricky Ponting. I have been an ardent admirer of him since childhood. Some of my team-mates and friends call me ‘Punter’, and say that I try to imitate Ponting which is not true. I might have imbibed something from him, but that is subconscious. Like him, my favourite shot is also pull.
CC: This year Ranji Trophy got extensive media coverage and your name was splashed all over the newspapers, news channels and websites. Has life changed post your splendid Ranji Trophy season?
RB: Yes, the media has been very kind and supportive towards me and our team. The life hasn’t changed much; I’m still the same person. To be honest, I think I have a lot to achieve. I don’t consider myself a star after just one good season. One of my friends called me recently and during the conversation taunted me by saying that he’s surprised, I still recognise him. I shot back saying that I’m not Ghajini. I don’t suffer from short-term memory loss.
CC: What do you like to do in your spare time?
RB: I love listening to music, and watching movies. I also like shopping. At one point, few years back, I was an expert in window shopping. I would visit malls and spend time enjoying myself. Once, I got out for a duck when I was playing under-16 match, and after the match, I went to the mall and purchased few T-shirts and a pair of shoes. In the next match, I hammered a century. Since then, whenever I don’t score much in the match, I scamper towards the mall and indulge myself in retail therapy! More often than not, it has brought good luck for me. Vanity is fair, at times!
CC: What are your plans for the future? You aspire to represent India at an international level?
RB: Yes, of course. Who doesn’t! Every cricketer nurtures the dream of playing for his country. My mantra is to knuckle down and play cricket to the best of your abilities without worrying much about the outcome and future. I am confident that if I perform consistently, selectors will take stock of my performance and my efforts will be duly rewarded. Talent and hard work always stand out; this is my firm belief. As of now, I am keeping my fingers crossed and focusing on the final of Vijay HazareTrophy which is starting today.
(Navneet Mundhra is a dreamer who has no delusion of grandeur about himself. He is an eternal learner brimming with passion and compassion, a maverick who swears by perfection and integrity and an avid reader, devout philharmonic, die hard movie buff and a passionate writer)