Mentor-player Praveen Kumar putting in the hard yards

The Uttar Pradesh pacer is in Chennai for the All-India Buchi Babu Invitation tournament.

Praveen Kumar atttends a practice session at Chepauk on Friday.   -  K. Pichumani

A group of scribes wait at one corner of the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium on a sunny and sultry Friday afternoon as Praveen Kumar bowls to Suresh Raina at the nets.

A couple of deliveries hit Raina on the pads, and a few others go off just kissing his bat. The Uttar Pradesh pacer looks at the India batsman, exchanges a quick smile, and then charges in. His next delivery is rather unplayable.

Happy to have got his rhythm back, the pacer walks towards his young team-mates of Uttar Pradesh, who are in Chennai for the All-India Buchi Babu Invitation tournament, and shares a tip or two with them.

After all, as a senior player, it is perhaps Kumar’s biggest responsibility. Even as he plays for Uttar Pradesh in the domestic season, Kumar wants to use this as an opportunity to mentor the young bowlers. “Look, the idea is to maintain myself well and have a good season. The target is also to remain fit, so that I can play a few games,” Kumar says, quickly adding: “During this time, I would like to keep the momentum going with the young boys. They come and take lessons from me whenever required. So, together, our target is to do well in Ranji Trophy.”

“The only motivation is that it is better to play a few games rather than sitting idly at home. I plan to be a part of the IPL in the next couple of seasons and earn money. That’s the whole motivation.” — Praveen Kumar

The soft smile is hard to miss as he speaks. The 30-year-old medium pacer, who has played six Tests and 68 ODIs for India, admits that there are intentions to take up a coaching job sometime in future. “I would definitely love to mentor youngsters. It is good to share what I have learnt over the years,” he says.

For now, he wants to extend his playing career a little longer. “This experience will help. I plan to play for another couple of seasons and then think about taking the new role seriously,” Kumar says.

He last played for India in 2012, when the team toured Bangladesh for the Asia Cup. It’s been five years since, and Kumar has only featured in domestic tourneys and the Indian Premier League (IPL) — the last two seasons for now-disbanded Gujarat Lions.

So, what keeps him motivated, one wonders.

The Meerut-based bowler gives a wicked smile and quickly replies, “Nothing, really.” In a couple of seconds, he explains his point. “The only motivation is that it is better to play a few games rather than sitting idly at home. I plan to be a part of the IPL in the next couple of seasons and earn money. That’s the whole motivation,” Kumar says.

This year, the Uttar Pradesh team will be without the services of its old spinner Piyush Chawla, who recently switched base to Gujarat. Even Kuldeep Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are expected to miss the season owing to national duties. But Kumar is not too bothered about all that. “Our bowling has been good. Piyush’s absence will be a little blow, but then, we also have another young bowler – Zeeshan Ansari, who is doing well for us. He bats well too. Saurabh Kumar is also there. So I don’t think Piyush’s absence will be a huge factor,” he says, before leaving the stadium after a hard day’s practice.

Despite being one of the major bowlers for the Indian side once upon a time, Kumar lost steam mid-way. Off-field controversies too made matters tough for him.

But even then, he has made it a point to hit the nets regularly and stay connected to the game. After all, it’s never easy to leave something you love the most. For Kumar, that’s cricket.

(With inputs from Ayan Acharya)