MOHALI: Navdeep Saini‘s story has now grown beyond senior India cricketers and Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA) protesting his selection as he marked his run-up on his Ranji Trophy debut for Delhi. It’s not just a story of a boy from Karnal turning up at the nets of Delhi team and Gautam Gambhir blooding him in despite being an ‘outsider’ as per domicile stipulations.
He is now the face of India’s hope to build on the fast-bowling revolution in the country. And when he marks his run-up again in the second T20I against South Africa in Mohali on Wednesday, there will be one person in the rival dugout who will be equally pleased as any of his well-wishers-Lance Klusener. “I am so glad to see Navdeep Saini being recognized. You don’t see many in Indian cricket who can bowl at 150 kmph,” Klusener remarked while interrupting you during a discussion on Indian fast bowlers.
Klusener was with the Delhi senior team as white-ball consultant last season-a role he now plays with the South African team. “He is an absolutely human being and that added a lot of value to our Delhi team last year,” he promptly stated as you tried to know more about his first impressions of Saini. The follow-up question was obvious: what clicks for Saini? “I think he has a wonderful action which is very clean and smooth. He is superbly fit as well. But while chatting with him, I realized he is hungry to bowl at 150 clicks and above,” the former South Africa allrounder told TOI, recalling his initial days with Delhi which saw the team make the Vijay Hazare one-day tournament final.
Fitness and pace are the two operative words in Klusener’s analysis of Saini. Browse through his social media profile and you would know how much Saini prides his fitness-to the extent that he comes across boasting his six-pack abs that seem like being chiseled out of a rock. Saini has come a long way from being a frail, nippy medium-pacer who would break down for three consecutive seasons since his debut. That wasn’t unexpected from a boy who barely had gone through the modern-day rigours of formal training till he was 21 when he Gambhir identified him in 2013. What followed is not a soft story as his is often made out to be.
When he was first drafted into a Test team in June last year, he recounted the plan he laid for himself. “I knew it was not just about playing for Delhi. I realized I had to get stronger and fitter so that I don’t break down in the middle of the season. I needed to take more load. That’s how I could repay Gautam bhaiya’s belief in me,” Saini had told TOI then.
Saini went on to hire a personal trainer, changed his diet to gain body mass and, by the time the 2017-18 season started, turned out to be a machine who could literally hurl balls at over 145 kmph all day. Yet, you will struggle to notice a grimace on his face. He slips into his house in Karnal without letting his neighbours know. Takes out his Harley Davidson or the Royal Enfield in the afternoon when the neighbourhood is tucked inside their rooms after lunch.
The best thing about Saini that Klusener noticed is: “While he loves bowling at 150 clicks, he knows that ability doesn’t last forever but while you can bowl 150 kmph now, then just enjoy.”
Saini too is having a ball at the moment. “Abhi mazaa nahin aayega toh kab aayega. (If I can’t have fun now then when would I?),” he summed up his experience, moments after touching down from West Indies last month. He hasn’t met Klusener yet. But he carries whatever Klusener had to impart a year ago.