From the bylanes of Chandannagar, a historical town in West Bengal, to the fast lanes of Indian cricket — life has been good for Ishan Porel. The young pacer, who was part of India’s Under-19 World Cup-winning team in 2018, has slowly made his presence felt on the big stage.
While Porel had to warm the bench during the last Indian Premier League (IPL) season, the 22-year-old travelled with the Indian team to Australia as a net bowler. And though he had to return home after picking up a hamstring injury, those 15 days with the national side has taught Porel a lot. After recovering from his injury, Porel featured for Bengal in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT) and ended up being the highest wicket-taker for his team with 13 scalps. While he is optimistic about breaking into the Indian team soon, Porel is now working hard to regain his rhythm.
“It is tough for a bowler to return to action after sustaining an injury. I am slowly gaining momentum and hopefully things will get better as I play more,” he says.
In a chat with Sportstar , Porel talks about his journey so far and lists the things he has learnt in his short stint with the Indian team.
After a hiatus, domestic cricket is back in the country with the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. How has the experience been so far?
I had the experience of staying inside the bio-bubble during the Indian Premier League and also during India’s tour of Australia. So, it’s nothing new for me. But, yes, for many it is a new experience. We are playing domestic cricket after a year, and I would admit that it is tough as a player to stay inside the bubble for long, because when you are off the ground, you want to stay relaxed. That helps a player perform better on the field.
For me, it has been a long four months of staying inside the bubble, and now the other players are also getting accustomed to it. All of us know this is the only way we can play cricket and we are glad that the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) is organising such a tournament in the middle of the pandemic. And we are lucky enough to play the sport we love and are getting paid for that.
How does the bio-bubble impact the performance of cricketers? And when things don’t go your way, how do you handle the situation, mentally?
The good thing is that all the players are staying together for long and the bond between them is getting stronger. In a bio-bubble, you get to see your teammates from early in the morning to late in the night, and in the process you end up knowing them better. That’s a good thing because we are discussing cricket, playing games, having fun together inside the hotel. And if someone has a bad day on the field, then all the teammates and the management staff are there to help him out.
All of us know that in such trying times, anyone can have a bad outing. So we as a team have decided not to criticise or pull up anyone if things go wrong on a particular day. As a team, we want to stay together as a unit. Also, one must remember that now every team has 20 members, so nine players need to warm the bench during the tournament, so it is tough for them as well to stay motivated and that’s why it is important to back each other.
It has been an incredible journey for you. After being part of the Under-19 World Cup-winning team in 2018, you went on to bag an IPL contract and also recently toured Australia with the Indian team as a net bowler. What have you learnt from those experiences?
When I got a chance in the IPL, my objective was to gain some experience from the tournament — whether I featured in the playing XI or not. My aim was to learn from the international stars and I am fortunate enough to have got a chance with Kings XI Punjab. Those experiences have helped me a lot. KL (Rahul) bhai , Mayank (Agarwal) bhai or Chris Gayle — they are so freewheeling that they have become big brothers. Yes, it was tough that I did not get a game and it was a bit disappointing, too. But at the end of the day, I have learnt so many things in those couple of months.
The coaches — Anil Kumble, Jonty Rhodes, Wasim Jaffer, Charl Langeveldt — really helped, and my fielding has improved a lot under the guidance of Jonty Sir. In terms of bowling, too, Langeveldt told me a lot of things and I kept those things in mind while bowling at the nets. It was a great experience to bowl to so many world-class batsmen in the nets, and those months did help me grow as a cricketer.
How was it travelling to Australia with the national side?
Unfortunately, I sustained an injury in the middle of the tour and had to return, but those 15 days were quite an experience. I will try and use all those experiences in the future.
As a fast bowler, it is quite natural to get injured, but what is important is to overcome it quickly. Once a sportsperson is injured, it is tough to gain that momentum, but one should take things in stride and look at the future.
What are the things that you have learnt from the IPL and the tour of Australia in terms of your bowling?
In T20s (Twenty20s), a lot can change in a single ball; it can shift momentum from one team to another. As a bowler, you always need to think ahead of the batsman. In a crunch situation, you need to decide whether you want to bowl a yorker or not, or whether you want to bluff a batsman with a bouncer — that thinking needs to be done quickly. One has to admit that there is a huge difference between the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the IPL. So, in the SMAT, it is easier to use those experiences from the IPL and trick a batsman.
As far as executing plans are concerned, I have improved a lot. You can make a thousand plans for a batsman, but you need to execute them at crucial parts, and for me, that has improved.
During the IPL, you spent nearly three months under the watchful eyes of head coach Anil Kumble, one of the legends of the game. Is there any advice that you have got from him?
After the pandemic, when we played our first practice game, I bowled a no-ball and that impacted my figures in that over. After the match, Anil Sir walked up to me and said, “Ishan, don’t be harsh on yourself. We all know you are a performer and you have done well in the last season. We are all playing a match after a long time, and it is natural to make mistakes.”
He asked me to remain confident and stay focused. So, what I learnt from him was that it is always important to have self-belief and always think ahead of the batsman. You cannot lower your guard and always need to stay calm and determined, whatever the situation is. And those words of Anil Sir were very inspiring.
Was there anything that the net bowlers were advised during the tour of Australia?
Arun Sir (India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun) told me that I have come so far doing what I do best and that I should work on my basics. He asked me to follow whatever I have done in all these years.
There was a time when India was known for bringing out a lot of young spinners. But now there are a bunch of young pacers who have come up. How do you see this competition with your contemporaries?
I consider this as a healthy competition. As long as there is a competition, every bowler will have that eagerness to improve. Playing for your country should not come so easy — one should work hard enough to earn the national cap and there should be a matter of pride in doing so.
Right now there is a pool of 12-13 fast bowlers who can break into the Indian team at any point of time, and you need to be among the top five bowlers in that group to make it to the national side. So, it is exciting and also challenging at the same time. I am taking it as a positive — as a fast bowler, you need to bowl well, take wickets in every match and be consistent. You need to handle pressure if you have to play for your country.
The Australia tour turned out to be a fairy tale for T. Natarajan, who too had travelled Down Under as a net bowler, but ended up featuring in all the three formats. How much of an inspiration is that for a youngster like you?
It’s been a delight for all of us to see a net bowler travelling to Australia and then making it to the Indian team in all the three formats. It is exciting as it gives you a feeling that you too could be in contention soon. Who knows, even I could be in there in the next series! You just need to be prepared for it and make the most of every opportunity. I also had a good outing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. So, yeah, you never know.
Natarajan bowled extremely well in the IPL and that’s why he deserved a chance in the T20Is and ODIs, and with a bit of luck, he has gone on to make his Test debut. At this stage, you need a bit of luck, too. It is a dream run for him and hopefully he will do well.
During the Australia tour, did you get a chance to interact with Virat Kohli?
Virat bhai always backs youngsters because he knows that with a bit of support, the youngsters can do well. He too has come from such a level — after winning the Under-19 World Cup in 2008 — and he motivates the players.
When India won the Under-19 World Cup in 2018, coach Rahul Dravid had a big role to play. How much of an impact has Dravid had on your career?
Rahul Sir has been an inspiration to all of us. I have never seen a composed person like him. Despite being such a successful cricketer, he is so down to earth and always motivates us. Rahul Sir has played a huge role in my career. Had it not been for him, I would not have been able to play in the Under-19 World Cup after sustaining an injury. He told me that I would be the preferred choice in the quarterfinal if I recover on time. That was a great morale booster.
Before the semifinal against Pakistan, there was the IPL auction, but he told us: “I know it’s not going to be easy because everyone will be focused on the IPL auction. But also remember that you never know when the next time you will be able to play for your country and that too in a World Cup semifinal against Pakistan! So, be ready for the Pakistan game as it could be the biggest game in your career...”
I was not picked by any teams in the IPL. But I did well in the semifinal, thanks to Rahul Sir.
During the lockdown, he personally emailed all the cricketers saying that if we needed anything from him or the National Cricket Academy, we should feel free to get in touch. It always helps you stay motivated if you hear such things from a legend like Rahul Sir!