"Virat Kohli has a lot of faith in me and bowling to him in match situations simulated during net sessions has benefited me immensely, and I am now trying to create an identity for myself", says Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) pacer Navdeep Saini.
Saini hogged the limelight in last season of the IPL when he impressed with his pace and the wicket-taking ability for RCB. The 27-year old snared 11 wickets in his debut season and impressed RCB captain Kohli much. Since Kohli is also India captain that would have helped Saini break into the national side.
Saini on how Virat has supported him
"Virat bhaiya has played a big role in my career. I played IPL for the first time with the RCB under Virat bhaiya. He is always accommodating and listens to me all the time. He backs me in whatever I want to do on the field," Saini told IANS in an exclusive interview from Dubai.
The Haryana pacer can comfortably clock in excess of 140 kmph on the speed gun. He made a memorable debut against the West Indies in a T20 game at Lauderhill, USA, in August last year, bagged three wickets for 17 runs -- the most for India. He has so far played 10 T20s and five ODIs, his last assignment being on India's tour of New Zealand. He has taken 18 wickets so far for India in the two white ball formats, though he is yet to make Test debut.
"He [Kohli] is always ready to work on my plans and back me. He shows a lot of faith. During nets, I try to give my best as he is a star batsman and you can assess yourself when you bowl to him. It is also good that he is my India captain. So, the chemistry translates while playing for India too. He knows me well and understands me. He has a lot of faith in me," Saini said.
"He [Kohli] always keeps match intensity at nets. He is aggressive and bats with full intensity. So, as he bats like he is batting during a match, I also feed off that energy and give that little extra to showcase my skills. So, it is like a match-situation when I bowl to him," he informed.
India's red ball pace attack is arguably one of the best in the world at present, and Saini said he is only concentrating on improving his skill set in every practice session.
"I am working hard to play Test cricket. I have not set any deadline to make my Test debut but I am working towards improving myself as a fast bowler. I aim to learn new things from every practice session. I am working hard to create my own identity," he averred.
In line with the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued by the BCCI, all the players and support staff underwent a mandatory six-day quarantine after arriving in the UAE for the IPL starting on September 19.
RT-PCR tests were conducted on everyone on Day 1, 3 and 6 of the quarantine. "It is difficult to play in a bio-bubble. But the biggest challenge in IPL is to perform in front of legends from across the world. It is a good platform to showcase your abilities. I hope to do better in the future," Saini said.
"You are locked inside your room, you cannot hit the ground. But you need to be smart in this. You need to make the most of the atmosphere, keep working out in your room and stay busy," he said, philosophically.
On the issue of saliva ban for bowlers, Saini said the key is to adapt to the changed conditions quickly. "If you can't shine the ball, you do lose a bit of benefit. But since we cannot use saliva it is important to adapt as quickly as possible. In the UAE, humidity is more; the weather is hotter. So, when you get back in the mix, it does not matter that you hadn't played for some time," he explained.
RCB are yet to win the IPL title in 12 attempts and Saini said he is working on his abilities to win matches for his team.
"I played IPL with RCB for the first time and did quite well. Then I made my debut for the country in T20s and ODIs. The best part is that I am learning things faster so that I can sharpen my skill and give match winning performances. I give my all in practice sessions and I am working on helping the team with match winning performances. That is what I want," he said of goals.