With the increasing number of wicketkeeper-batsmen in India today, it is hard to gauge as to who is whose understudy. In the race comprising Sanju Samson, Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan and senior pro Wriddhiman Saha, Andhra boy K.S. Bharat is the new entry.
The 26-year-old is a known name in domestic and India A circuit but with no Indian Premier League contract, there are visibility issues.
Nobody can question his commitment. On the eve of the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal, when his team went back to the hotel post lunch, he still hung around the CSR Sharma College Ground with his trolly and a kit bag. He sat down under a tree, took his pads out and mentally started preparing for another round of nets.
“This was the ground where I scored my Ranji triple. It is special,” he says while adjusting his thigh guard. He was the first ‘keeper-batsman to do so.
Bharat opened up to Sportstar on Andhra cricket, the experience of being in the Team India dressing room as a cover for Saha and Pant, and blooming at a time when every ‘keeper-batsman in the pool is a prospect.
India has a pool of wicketkeepers now, and everyone is talented. Do you enjoy the competition? How frustrating is the wait for a chance?
I have been around in the longer format for India A for the past two years. Wriddhi and I keep rotating. It is also a learning curve for me. When I see Wriddhi coming and keeping in India A games, I take a lot of cues from him. I also try to watch his mindset. I want the competition to be so good that the best comes out of us all the time. You can’t walk into the team so easily. It is always better to perform and then enter the senior side. That is when you are match-ready to win games for India. We are not looking to just represent India or wear the cap once. Definitely, it will be a proud moment but when you start winning games, that’s the ultimate joy for a player.
So you enjoy others’ success…
Yes. I want all of us to get runs. If one scores 100, the other should score 150. That competition is exciting.
You were recently part of Team India as cover for Rishabh during the ODI series against Australia. How was the experience?
I didn’t get much time to prepare or even have a proper chat with Virat Kohli. I just got a call in the morning that I had to join the team at night for a game that was next day. The kind of energy that the dressing room holds is incredible. Everyone is positive. Earlier, I was part of the side as cover during the Test series against Bangladesh. The think tank was relaxed then. But against Australia, they were all charged up. Since we had lost the first ODI, the must-win second game had a different energy. Everyone was raring to have a go at the series.
Andhra is playing the Ranji Trophy knockouts after four years. What has worked for the side this season?
After our last quarterfinal appearance, every year our goal was to play better cricket to go to the next stage. But we missed it out narrowly earlier. We would set goals before the start of the season, talking about the points we need to make the knockouts. A lot of hard work and factors like playing at home helped us. Our strength is seam bowling and all of them have done well this season. All fast bowlers are in good shape.
What’s the plan for the next stage?
In our meetings, we just spoke about the best we can do. It is good to focus on the opponent but not at the cost of your game. We will stick to things we know better; the conditions, of course, is an advantage. What has worked in the season should be continued. Following the process is what I am looking for.
You must be missing Hanuma Vihari a lot. A batsman like him missing in the knockouts [due to national duty] is a huge void. Did you have a word with him yet?
Not yet. I will have a word with him today. Both of us keep talking about team combinations. If he was here, things would have been different. But that’s what the game brings to you – new challenges everyday. It is a good space where a youngster can fit into his shoes and do the job. He has been a great performer and a team man. We will miss him but the team has won with me and Hanuma not being around as well. They got two outrights. Everyone knows their role.
Who has been your idol?
Rahul sir [Dravid]. I personally get excited to perform when he is around. When he is watching, you feel like performing well. All Test and ODI call-ups were good but nothing can beat the experience of playing in front of Rahul sir. Besides him, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been an inspiration too.
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