Navdeep Saini takes up tennis ball training at home

India speedster Saini bought fitness equipment at home. He is doing a bit of running and bowling so that the muscles remain activated.

Indian fast bowler Navdeep Saini has made a big splash during his early days in international cricket.   -  AFP

Navdeep Saini’s grandfather, Karam Singh, was a freedom fighter. He was part of the Indian National Army with Subhash Chandra Bose. No wonder the 27-year-old fast bowler understands the importance of representing India. “Mere liye bohot badi baat hai (it is a big thing for me),” he says.

The speedster had just started to turn heads in international cricket when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic paused the action. Since IPL 2019 for Royal Challengers Bangalore followed by his dream debut (3/17) in the West Indies, Saini has been the most talked about bowler.

In a telephonic chat with Sportstar from his home in Taraori in Haryana, Saini spoke on the need of the hour — how to remain fit, motivated and set goals when the future is uncertain.

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How challenging is this phase for a fast bowler who had just started tasting success in international cricket?

I had just started and suddenly, the whole thing stopped. It is tough but you have to take it positively. By playing international cricket, I also learnt a lot of things, and this is the time to take those into consideration and improve. I have the time to prepare right now.

What are you doing to stay in the groove?

I am working out at home. I bought all the necessary gym equipment, including weights, so that I can train. I also bowl with a tennis ball at home.

You have the space for that?

It is not very spacious but enough for me to run in and bowl a little bit. I also do a bit of running. It will benefit me in the long run. And I bowl because the bowling muscles need to stay activated. It needs to get used to it. When I return to the ground, it won’t take me long to get back on track. It is essential to keep bowling. There will, of course, be an added effort when action resumes, but all this is going to help me.

Has there been any special directive from Team India Strength and Conditioning coach Nick Webb?

He keeps talking to us. There are weekly plans. I even talk to the players and ask what they have been doing to stay fit. Our trainer ensures we are in good shape.

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You have had 15 appearances, 10 T20Is and five ODIs, what were the learning points?

Spending time with the team and playing international cricket in itself is a learning point. I will keep learning as long as I play cricket. Every player learns on the job. You understand game plan by playing more and more matches, depending on the game situation. There were a lot of pointers on the tours to the West Indies and New Zealand.

Which one would be your most prized wicket till now?

The yorker to dismiss Roston Chase was special. That was a planned wicket. Even against Sri Lanka, the dismissals were memorable. If you prepare and plan to set up a batsman and get him out, that gives you a lot of happiness.

What’s the one thing that you have realised after 15 international games?

I have worked hard for this. That’s why I am getting my chances. I feel happy but now, on reaching here, I realise I have to work harder to maintain this.

What do you do to attain that perfection?

I ask questions to my seniors. I actually ask everybody how to make it better, how to be more accurate. You get to learn something or the other from everyone.

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You have a lethal yorker, and you have Jasprit Bumrah around. That must be a boost…

Whenever I have bowled, he has always stood by me. He has always advised on how to get better, even at nets. Even Shami [Mohammed] bhaiyya gave me a few suggestions on seam position and where I should land the ball.

How important is pace? Gone are the days when bowlers would only rely on line-and-length…

Pace is important. If you are bowling 145 kmph in white ball, and then suddenly, if you bowl a slower one, it gets difficult for the batsman. That is a plus point. It is not easy to handle the change of pace. It is essential to have pace so that you can mix it up.

Who have been your role models?

I have grown up admiring Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson.  They are the reason why I wanted to become a fast bowler. At present, every Indian pacer is a role model. Our pace attack is one of the best in the world right now.

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There is a lot of debate going on regarding the use of saliva on the cricket ball. The game may not be the same in the post pandemic world. What are your thoughts?

I haven’t thought about this at all. When cricket resumes and if there are new rules for bowlers to make the ball shine, I will think about it then. As of now, I don’t know how to go about this. It will be important to see what else you can do to make the ball shine. It is a part of the game and the ball will only talk if there is shine. Shine karne se hi ball kuch na kuch harkat karti hai, agar ball harkat nahi karegi, to mushkil rahega bowler ke liye (the ball performs at its best when there is shine, if it doesn't then it is a problem).

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Being a regular in the T20I side, you have a good chance to get selected for the ICC World T20 in Australia. Since the tournament is doubtful now, how are you setting goals?
You know you have to prepare accordingly when you have a tournament coming up but before that, you have to prepare yourself for that level. If you do that, you automatically get a chance because of your hard work. Getting picked or not is a different issue, first you have to keep raising the bar and show improvement.

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