Varun Aaron: I am fit and ready

Varun Aaron has been at the MRF Pace Foundation here only briefly but has already discovered the value of technical inputs from Australian pace bowling legend Glenn McGrath.

Varun Aaron sat out of the Ranji Trophy after playing the first few games, missing out on Jharkhand's progress to the semifinals.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

Learning from the masters can be rewarding. Returning to the game after a bruised heel sidelined him for nearly three months, Varun Aaron narrated a nugget.

The fast bowler has been here at the MRF Pace Foundation only briefly but has already discovered the value of technical inputs from Australian pace bowling legend Glenn McGrath.

Aaron told Sportstar here on Thursday, “McGrath sir saw me bowl and immediately told me that I was rather stiff in my strides. He asked me to lift my legs a little more while running. Small things can make a big difference and I am now getting into my delivery stride more smoothly.”

The paceman, finding his rhythm, was powering through to the crease, gaining momentum and thrust. “I have no doubt in my mind that I will play for India again,” said the 27-year-old cricketer from Jharkhand.

Aaron said, “I am fit again and ready to play in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 tournament. The last three months have been difficult because a heel bruise is a freak injury.”

Someone who bowls in the high 140-kmph speeds — he has crossed the 153 mark — Aaron is an attacking paceman who gets the batsmen to duck and weave.

He did bowl with pace and bounce when India toured Australia for the Test series in 2014-15. When he was rather questionably dropped for the third Test, many former Aussie cricketers were surprised.

They said the Aussie batsmen had confessed to them that Aaron was the Indian paceman who had troubled them the most and got them out of their comfort zone.

Figures don’t reflect the intensity of Aaron’s bowling down under. He recalled, “In the first Test in Adelaide, I clean bowled David Warner but it was off a no ball. Soon after that I had him caught down the leg-side but the umpire ruled 'not out.’ It was a clear nick.”

He created opportunities but many of them were not taken. “In Brisbane, in the second Test, I got Steven Smith to edge one when Australia was under pressure in the second innings. But the catch was floored. Things could have been different for me.”

He played the first few Ranji games this season before missing Jharkhand’s stirring progress to the semifinals. “It pained me greatly to sit out when Jharkhand was doing so well,” Aaron said.

Aaron is passionate about cricket in Jharkhand. “I desperately wanted to play the semifinals. The team needed me. But I was not completely fit. I missed being with the boys. In any case, it was a great display by Jharkhand. I started the domestic season so well and would have loved to be there in the knock-out stages.”

Talking about Jharkhand, it was all but natural that the conversation shifted to M.S. Dhoni. “He has been an inspiration to all of us. Interestingly, the first time I played with him for Jharkhand, I actually captained him last season in a domestic limited overs tournament. It was a strange feeling.”

Dhoni stepping down from ODI and Twenty20 captaincy took Aaron by surprise. “It was the same thing when he relinquished Test captaincy too in Australia. Nobody knew. He takes his own decisions. His contribution to Indian cricket has been immense. I am yet to see a cricketer who is so cool on the field as Dhoni is.”

At the MRF Pace Foundation, Aaron has been working to get his body into the best possible shape. “I have been doing yoga routines with K. Gopinath sir and it has been very helpful,” he said.

India captain Virat Kohli, admiring Aaron’s aggression, has often backed him. “I know that. I now have to win matches for the country and captain Kohli,” Aaron said.

He comprehends returning to the Indian team would be hard considering Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma have been bowling well. “I feel happy for them. There is good bonding between the Indian pacemen. We enjoy each others’ success. I know I have to do well to get back in the Indian team but I am up for it.”

The inherent hostility in his bowling, irrespective of the format, often sees him hustling the batsmen. There are times when Aaron goes for runs too in the process.

He said, “While Test cricket is the most cherished format, I enjoy playing the ODIs and the Twenty20 games too. You need to make some changes in your bowling between different formats but I am essentially an attacking bowler, want to pick wickets. I will continue to bowl fast.”

Indeed, a slew of injuries including a career-threatening one on the back, has not forced him to take the easy option and cut down speed. His attitude is that of a fast bowler; West Indian pace great Andy Roberts is his idol.

It was at the IPL that Aaron first caught attention and he will be searching for a new franchise this season after being released by Royal Challengers Bangalore. “The auction is in early February and I am hopeful of finding a good side. The IPL is an exciting tournament.”

Aaron has displayed the mental strength to overcome periods of frustration brought about by fitness concerns. It’s now time for him to fire.