Subodh Bhati celebrates a wicket in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. (Photo courtesy: Bhati's Facebook)
Subodh Bhati celebrates a wicket in the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2015-16. (Photo courtesy: Bhati’s Facebook)

“Well done! Brilliant bowling. Keep working hard,” said MS Dhoni. The very words coming from his boyhood hero made young Subodh Bhati’s day. The very words he cherishes and derives more confidence from.

Two days before Christmas, Delhi, led by Gautam Gambhir, went on to defeat Jharkhand by 99-runs in the Vijay Hazare Trophy quarter-final this season. Bhati, 25, playing only his seventh List A game made the difference with his 10-2-21-4. The Jharkhand line-up had Dhoni who ended with an unbeaten 70 and complemented the young medium pacer.

“Bowling to Dhoni bhaiya is a nightmare,” Bhati recalls his experience of bowling to India’s limited-overs captain. “He was hitting every bowler for fours and sixes. All these years I had seen him on TV and now in reality I came to know why he is the best in the world. He is so good that you can’t plan against him. I was just trying my best to not get smacked.”

From a mohallah cricketer in Modinagar to Delhi’s new rising star, Bhati has hit the ‘on your mark’ stage of what he hopes will be a ‘dream run’. In his first season in domestic cricket, with 18 wickets at 14.44 and strike-rate of 24.6, and economy rate of 3.52, Bhati was the force behind Delhi’s successful run in the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2015-16 that saw the side secure the runners-up place. Thanks to Bhati, Delhi, who failed to make it to the quarter-final of the Ranji Trophy, made it up in the limited-overs format.

Though Bhati picked up two wickets in the final against Gujarat in the final, he went for 43 from his six overs. Delhi lost by 139 runs. “It was very disappointing to not lift the title. As a cricketer one has to be ready for the worst days and this was one. But overall I am satisfied with the cricket we played in Vijay Hazare Trophy.”

However, not long back he had decided to give up the game that is now giving him fame. “I was picked for Delhi Under-23 and then Under-25 but didn’t get to play. I was getting frustrated. I belong to a simple middle-class and I had to look for other career options. My coaches Tarik Sinha sir, Naresh Sharma sir and others insisted ‘kuch bhi ho khelna mat chhod (whatever it is, don’t quit playing)’. Family pressure was practical and I continued my studies too. If I don’t make it big in cricket, I need to ensure that I have a career to fall back to,” said Bhati, who is now a law graduate (completed in 2015 from a college in Meerut). He belongs to a rare breed, ones who have completed undergraduate degree prior to First-Class debut.

Not express by any stretch, Bhati’s strengths lies in hitting the right spots and trying to outsmart the batsman with his variations. And he has been quite successful with that.

 

His debut season, so far

Format M R W BB Ave Econ R SR 4w
First-Class 1 51 2 1-10 25.50 2.21 55.6
List A 9 260 18 4-17 14.44 3.52 24.6 2
Twenty20 3 79 3 2-13 26.33 6.97

On October 30, 2015, Bhati won his Delhi cap at Bhubaneswar. His first wicket was of Odisha skipper Biplab Samantray. The match ended in a draw with Delhi securing 3 points on basis of first innings lead. The match is more remembered for Pradeep Sangwan’s seven-for but Subodh picked two wickets. He didn’t play any further role in the Ranji Trophy.

This season he has played alongside the likes of Gambhir, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Parvinder Awana and Sangwan. It is easy for a youngster to get overawed by the presence of stars in the dressing room. Bhati too was nervous. He recalls, “At start of the season I was very nervous but Gauti bhaiya [Gambhir] and Vijay bhaiya [coach Vijay Dahiya] made me feel extremely comfortable. They told me that I am here because of my good performances and I don’t need to change anything at this level. I just need to continue doing what I have been. Following their advice has helped me.”

“In fact, from Awana to Sangwan, everyone helped me improving and the atmosphere is such that despite the competition for places they keep on encouraging me. It is easy to perform if you receive backing from your coach and other experienced cricketers in the side. I have learned a lot from these big guys.”

 

Early life

Born September 29, 1990, in a middle-class farming family to Kailash Chand Bhati and Rakesh Devi in Modinagar, a city in Uttar Pradesh, which is 23 km from Ghaziabad, Bhati is the youngest of four siblings. He has a brother and two sisters. A product of Tulsi Ram Maheshwari Public School, where no cricket was played, Bhati did not play the sport at a serious level till passing his 12th board exams. An ardent fan of Nehra, he was a famous mohallah (street) cricketer whom everyone wanted in their side.

“I had no clue how to pursue playing professionally. We played tennis ball cricket and I was very popular. I loved the way Ashish Nehra bowled. I imitated him. From his action, to the way he walks and conducts. I am a huge Nehra fan.” he says.

Being a right-arm bowler, he has now modelled his action on his other favourite bowler, Ishant Sharma.

Coming back to his post school days. Realising his talent was rare, post high secondary school, Bhati’s quest for professional cricket landed him to Abhinav Goel’s Young Guns Cricket Academy in Ghaziabad. “I had no clue about club cricket or how to make my game know to the work. I came to know of academies in Ghaziabad from friends. That’s how I landed here. Abhinav bhaiya’s support has been tremendous. He pushed me hard and I guess I am reaping the rewards.”

Thereon, it has been a steady rise. His exploits with the ball earned him a place in the prestigious Sonnet Cricket Club. It was here that his interactions with his boyhood hero Nehra began. He credits a lot of his success to Nehra’s mentoring and he is extremely pleased with the veteran left-armer’s selection in the national T20 side.

Subodh first date with fame was during a match between Collage Group and ONGC. It was a televised game and playing for Collage, he picked up a six-for against the petroleum giants. That went on to be the turning point.

It was during JP Atray Memorial cricket tournament in Chandigarh in 2014-15 where Bhati’s bowling hogged the limelight. He ended the tournament as the highest wicket-taker — 13 wickets at 18.15, including two fifers. After this show, the Delhi cap wasn’t going to be far.

 

All-rounder?

On Saturday, in his first T20 game for Delhi, he came in to bat at No. 8 with one required from five balls. Bhati struck a boundary off Anureet Singh’s first ball to seal it for Delhi. They had chased down 214 in just 19.2 overs. In the next two games for Delhi, captain Gambhir has given him the No.3 slot. Against Andhra he scored 8 from 4-balls and in the next match against Madhya Pradesh, he was run out after a 14-ball 18. Though Bhati primarily is a medium pacer, his batting exploits in club cricket have grabbed headlines and Delhi too wants to make use of it.

Bhati checking his willow at DY Patil Stadium earlier in 2015. (Photo courtesy: Bhati's Facebook)
Bhati checking his willow at DY Patil Stadium earlier in 2015. (Photo courtesy: Bhati’s Facebook)

In June 2013, in 40th all-India Goswami Ganesh Dutt memorial cricket tournament, coming in at No. 8, he smashed an unbeaten 18-ball 40 to help Sonnet chase down 303 in 40 overs. He is working hard on his batting skills and in times to come he views himself as an all-rounder. He puts it rightly, “One should try and contribute to team’s cause in all possible ways.”

 

Fandom to surreal

In a nation that has given the sport some of the best batsmen, Bhati grew up imitating Nehra and later Ishant. Now he finds himself in the same dressing room. “It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? I am sharing the dressing room with my heroes so I have to be lucky. Both Ashish bhaiya and Ishant bhaiya keep advising me. When my performance dips I tend to get low and lose confidence but they have kept on motivating me. The thing with these big players is their ability to stay positive despite the bad days. I am trying to learn the same,” said Bhati.

He considers his List A debut against Baroda at Feroz Shah Kotla, earlier this season as his “best cricketing moment so far.” The bowling attack had the likes of Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel, and then the much talked about Hardik Pandya. Baroda had restricted Delhi to 208. An inspiring show from Subodh enabled Delhi to bowl out Baroda for 177, as he finished with 6.5-2-17-4.

The highlight was the wicket of Yusuf Pathan. Subodh got him one to play straight, he did strike it pretty firmly but the bowler took a sharp reflex catch on follow through. The danger man departed.

Bhati recalls, “My debut against Baroda is the best cricketing moment for me so far. They are a good side and I delivered against them. I derived a lot of confidence from this show and didn’t look back.”

 

The next big leap

By selecting Barinder Sran in the Indian ODI side for the Australian tour, the selectors have made a bold statement that they are closely following domestic cricket and keen to invest on youngsters. This has given a hope to the likes of Bhati’s. As reported earlier in 2015, the Deodhar Trophy will now be played on a 3-team format, which will comprises of the champion team of the Vijay Hazare tournament, in this case Gujarat and two other teams which will be selected by the national selectors. In a way it’s something closer to the now defunct Challenger’s Trophy.

“The ultimate dream is to represent the country. My performance in domestic ODIs should earn me a place in one of the teams for Deodhar and that will provide me another platform. I have done my bit and now it’s in selector’s court,” added the optimistic Bhati.

Bhati seems all set for the glitzy league. (Photo courtesy: Bhati's Facebook)
Bhati seems all set for the glitzy league. (Photo courtesy: Bhati’s Facebook)

Youngster or retired, no one from the cricket fraternity wants to give IPL a miss. Playing in the IPL is another motivation for Subodh to excel in the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. It’s not that he is alien to the glitz that the tournament brings. For the last two years he has been a part of Mumbai Indians’ development squad.

(Trivia: Here’s a Modi connection here. Subodh hails from Modinagar, a city founded in 1933 by Gujarmal Modi. He established the Modi group of industries and his grandson Lalit Modi is the inceptor of the cash rich IPL, the league that transformed the game of cricket.)

“It’s time I too start playing in IPL. I am listening to the seniors and working very hard. I hope is baar koi na koi IPL mei chance de dey mujhe (this time any team will pick me in IPL).

Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy is certainly the platform for him at the moment. Only time will tell if Modinagar will be on the cricketing map or not. For now the young man is having his time under the sun. Hereon, what will be important is — consistency.

 

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)