Saurabh Kumar: From net bowler in 2021 to squad member in 2024

NEW DELHI: The trajectory of Saurabh Kumar‘s cricketing career took a significant turn on Monday as he found a place in the Indian squad for the second Test against England, set to commence in Visakhapatnam on February 2.
The 30-year-old left-arm spinner, a seasoned player with a decade of experience in domestic cricket, now harbors the aspiration of earning his first national cap after previously being part of the Indian squad during the series against Sri Lanka at home in 2022.
While there’s no guarantee that Kumar will make his debut in Visakhapatnam, especially considering the competition from players like Kuldeep Yadav or Washington Sundar, this opportunity allows him to once again be in the company of esteemed names in Indian cricket such as Rohit Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin.
This chance to rub shoulders with the stalwarts of Indian cricket is undoubtedly a coveted opportunity for players like Kumar who have been diligently plying their trade in domestic cricket.
“It has always been a dream to be a part of the Indian team. I mean which cricketer wouldn’t want that? Lot of things need to come together for it, but I have had a bit of experience,” says Kumar.
The “experience” that Kumar mentioned was the opportunity to be a bowler at India nets during England’s tour in 2021, the starting point of his upward journey.
“Not everyday you will get a chance to bowl to a Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma, especially if you are a domestic player. They hardly play in Ranji Trophy or other domestic matches because of national commitments.
“So, it was a chance for me to have a closer look at them and study how they approach their game and their other routines. It was a great experience to bowl to and interact with some top-level players. There was so much to learn from them,” he elaborates.
Being drafted in as a net bowler is indeed a form of recognition for Kumar’s consistent performances in domestic cricket. However, the journey for Kumar hasn’t been without challenges, especially considering the typical career trajectory for first-class cricketers in India. By the age of 30, many players would have either solidified their position among the elite or faced a decline in their careers.
Despite this, Kumar, who has dedicated himself to learning and hard work since 2014, refused to succumb to the challenges. His perseverance and determination have enabled him to overcome obstacles and continue pursuing his dream, showcasing a resilience that goes beyond the typical timelines in Indian cricket.
This underscores Kumar’s commitment to his craft and his willingness to keep pushing for opportunities, even when faced with the conventional constraints of age in the cricketing landscape.
“Bishan sir (late Bishan Singh Bedi) used to tell me to keep working hard and be mentally ready to give my best whenever the opportunity comes. I never really keep myself away from nets or bowling,” Kumar said.
He used to attend Bedi’s summer camps in Delhi to finetune his skills under the observation of the master.
“Saurabh (Kumar) is a fantastic cricketer, a good reader of the game and situation. He knows how to adjust his line and length. He has got lot of experience in bowling in these conditions and against some really good players in domestic cricket like (Cheteshwar) Pujara or Mayank (Agarwal), who score heavy runs,” Sunil Joshi, former India left-arm pacer and the current UP coach, told PTI.
Kumar’s consistent performances have made him a familiar face in India ‘A’ tours. His recent displays have highlighted his growing prowess and versatility as a cricketer.
In the series against South Africa ‘A’ in Potchefstroom in December, Kumar showcased his skills by securing four wickets in the match. However, he elevated his performance further in the second unofficial Test against England Lions in Ahmedabad.
In that game, Kumar made a substantial impact by taking six wickets and contributing significantly with the bat, scoring 77 runs. This all-around effort played a crucial role in India ‘A’ securing a convincing victory by an innings and 16 runs over the touring team.
Kumar’s ability to contribute effectively in both bowling and batting has not gone unnoticed, and his coach, Joshi, has emphasised and praised his evolving capabilities in all aspects of the game.
“Yes, now, he has improved his batting also and can contribute some handy runs down the order, He is a real asset to any team,” said Joshi.
(With PTI inputs)

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