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It has been two years since Praveen Kumar last bowled a delivery in international cricket. Since then, he has been marred by injuries and has missed out on crucial domestic fixtures, which has not helped his comeback. He received a jolt when he was overlooked during this year’s IPL Player Auction. However, a window of opportunity was all that Praveen Kumar needed. And as luck would have it, he was roped in by the Mumbai Indians to replace the injured Zaheer Khan.
On Saturday night, during his first game for MI, Kumar showcased some fine swing bowling, bagging two wickets in his quota of four overs. And his second over to Dwayne Smith was a visual treat, as he left one of Chennai Super Kings’ prime batsmen in a tizzy. Smith had just faced one of the best overs of the match that would have left any batsman clueless. Clearly, the swing is back and so is the man, who is keen to prove a point.
In this chat with IPLT20.com, we get up close and personal with Praveen Kumar who speaks about what motivates him and his return to the big stage in an MI jersey. Here are excerpts from his interview:
Back in action and back amongst the wickets – a good start to your IPL 2014 campaign.
First of all, I am just elated to be back in the IPL. It is a good feeling to come back at this level and showcase my skills. It is nice to show that I am completely fit and that I still have it in me to perform with the ball.
Injuries have left you out of the big stage for quite sometime. Were you nervous in a game that was a comeback of sorts?
I have been training hard and working out in phases. I trained a month back and went a bit easy on my body. It was my first match tonight and it did feel weird to play after a long time. That weird feeling faded off as I met the other players and went out to bowl in an electric atmosphere here at Wankhede Stadium. There was never a point tonight when I was nervous, and I am not usually nervous by nature. I absolutely enjoyed my bowling tonight.
Was there anything in particular that you wanted to focus on when you opened the bowling tonight?
Inswing comes natural to me and I can bowl it at any given point of time. My only focus was to swing the ball at the right line and length. I am happy that everything is falling into place slowly, and it never felt like I was playing after being out of action for a long time.
You spoke about being out of action. How disappointed were you when you were not picked during the IPL Player Auction?
Obviously, I was very disappointed when I was not picked in the Auction. It was a shocking moment for me. I was dejected for the first week-and-a-half, but started calming down as the days passed by. There came a point at that time when I actually stopped getting out of my house, thinking what people would talk about me and feared if they would ask me different kinds of questions. But slowly, I started getting out and all the negativity faded off. I was gutted that I hadn’t got a chance to play on a platform where I have been playing for so long.
What was the most motivating factor at that time?
My family kept me motivated. That was when I spent most of my time with my family, and they have backed me a lot during these hard times. How did you prepare yourself after you hit a low in your career?
I played the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and a few corporate matches. My only motive was to get as much match practice as I can under my belt. I wanted to put in all my efforts and keep myself in sync with the game. I knew my shoulder, which had troubled me in the past, would only get better the more I bowl.
And then, you got a call from MI. Did you transform into a teenager who jumped with joy after hearing the news?
(Smiles) I was extremely happy when I got a call from Mumbai Indians to represent them in the IPL. I couldn’t sleep that night, and all of a sudden, I became a lot more positive. I have been playing international cricket for close to seven years now, and it was a great moment for me when I realised that I will be back in action.
Your second over to Dwayne Smith was a visual treat. Were you keeping a watch on him before joining MI?
I was watching the IPL matches at home. I was watching how Dwayne Smith was going about his batting and kept a tab on his weaknesses. I noticed that he was playing the inswinger well in all those matches and had difficulties playing the outswinger. It was strange that tonight he was playing the outswinger better and had problems playing the inswinger. I made him play a lot of inswingers tonight, and it worked for me.
How would you rate this performance?
I feel I could have bowled a lot better and conceded fewer runs. Now, it is back to the drawing board, and I will work on the things that I believe I should work on. Hopefully, I can take more wickets and give away fewer runs in the matches to come. Are you completely fit now?
I have always had injuries creeping into me all of a sudden. All my injuries – be it my shoulder, my elbow or my broken rib – have never been a problem that has persisted for a long time. They all came all of a sudden and happened by accident. Injuries are a part and parcel of being a bowler, and one needs to find ways to counter it and be fit at all times. Now, I am fit and raring to go.
It is still your initial period with MI. But how has it been so far?
I am thankful of the Mumbai Indians for supporting me and getting me back in the IPL fold. The players and the support staff are nice and generous. Now, it is time to go and perform for my team.
To claim your 100th wicket in any format, or any tournament for that matter, is always special. Today, it was Amit Mishra’s special day, at the Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium, when he claimed Kevin Pietersen – his 100th scalp in the Indian Premier League – and also registered his best bowling figures of the season.
The SRH bowler picked two for 23 and contributed towards a vital win. He kept the batsmen guessing as he bowled his googly, gave flight to the ball, spun it and varied his length and pace.
While speaking to IPLT20.com after the victory, Mishra talked about preparing for key contests, his 100th wicket and bowling in the IPL. He also pointed out that the batsmen are reading spinners better this season, and hence, they are more careful against the likes of him. This is a challenge that he is enjoying.
Excerpts from his interview:
You claimed your 100th IPL wicket, that too of Kevin Pietersen, and finished with your best figures of the season so far. Can't get much better than that?
Yes, it does feel good to have taken 100 wickets; it’s not easy. I faced a lot of difficulties along the way. It’s not easy bowling in the IPL. Everyone knows it is not easy for the bowlers. I am happy that I am performing well, everything is going well and we are back in form like we were last year.
You claimed two key wickets at crucial junctures today. How differently had you prepared from the last few matches?
I cleared my mind like I have been doing earlier. I was a bit confused about my bowling in the UAE leg. I cleared my mind and focused on what I had been doing right earlier. Like I try to create pressure and take wickets. And that is what I have been doing and it is coming along well, so I am happy now.
You had kept the batsmen on their toes with your variations. How do you mix and use your deliveries?
I watch the videos of a batsman and see what kind of delivery he is not able to pick up. Then I try and bowl that particular type of ball more to that batsman and confuse him. And when you do that, the batsmen are a little late in playing, and I get the benefit of that.
So what was your plan for Kevin Pietersen, who was looking in good nick today?
For a batsman like KP, you have to create pressure. Today, the wicket here was a little slow and the ball was also spinning a bit. So my effort was to see to it that he tries to hit me, rather than me trying to get him out. That is what happened and my plan worked. I bowled that ball a little slow and he was deceived by it; it spun a bit and he was caught in the covers. I always bowl when the batsmen are set. It is a difficult period, and our team needs a wicket or a few economical overs then. I am lucky that so far I have been able to do what is required and I am able to get wickets at crucial times as well. Hopefully, I can continue to perform like this.
Your team has one of the best pace attacks, which can choke batsmen and pick wickets at both ends of the innings. What is your role is this scenario?
The challenge at the time is that you concede as few runs and boundaries as possible. And while doing that if you pick wickets, then that is even better for the team. I couldn’t do that in the initial games. But in the last couple of games, I have made a comeback and given the team breakthroughs. What do you focus on – taking wickets or curbing the flow of runs?
I am considered a wicket-taking bowler, so I focus on picking wickets. However, sometimes the situation is such that you have to create pressure and take a wicket. I try to assess the situation and bowl accordingly.
Are batsmen reading spinners much better now?
This year, the batsmen are playing the spinners better. They are reading them well and they understand that spinners play a vital role in T20s. This year, I have noticed that the batsmen are more careful while playing spinners. That’s good. It is challenging and I am enjoying the challenge.
What are challenges while bowling in T20s?
When you are trying to take wickets and are hit for runs, the pressure is on you. So the challenge is to curb the big hits and take wickets and maintain the pressure too.