Jeet Raval: "I felt like a 14-year-old playing gully cricket in India"
- Blackcaps opener Jeet Raval spoke about the mental challenges he endured amidst a form slump and how he overcame it.
- He also talked about Kane Williamson's advice, facing Mitchell Starc and making a comeback to the side.
Blackcaps’ Test opener Jeet Raval’s career so far has been analogous to a roller-coaster ride, no matter how cliched the phrase may have become.
Raval's career can easily be split into two dichotomous halves. In his first 17 Tests for New Zealand, he averaged in excess of 38. It was almost like a slow, smooth ascent until he scored his maiden century to establish himself in the side.
There was a startling descent after that, though. Raval averaged just 11.64 in his next 11 innings before losing his spot to Tom Blundell. He was then left out of the 2020-21 central contract list.
With New Zealand playing Tests few and far between, being a Test specialist has been an unforgiving job for Raval. However, come October, he may return to domestic action with a renewed sense of hope and focus to top the charts in multiple formats.
Recently, over a video call from Auckland, Jeet Raval gave Sportskeeda a candid account of contrasting mindsets during the challenging Australian tour, clocking modest returns, his plans to plot a comeback trail and his ambition to play the 2023 World Cup in India.
Excerpts from the interview with Jeet Raval
SK: Starting off with a throwback to New Zealand’s Tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe in 2016, you were the only new face to be picked in the Test squad. But you did not get a game. What was it like being around the national set-up especially at a time when New Zealand were undergoing a captaincy transition?
Jeet Raval: It was great. I was very excited as I always wanted to be a part of the Test side. I got to learn about the national set up, how the team operates and how they train, especially the intensity. It was important to understand how I needed to train or what sort of intensity I needed to bring into the team. Also, at the same time, I got to know the guys really well. When I finally played in the team, I was a lot more comfortable because I was already a part of the setup before.
SK: You finally made your debut against Pakistan in Christchurch. How was that feeling? Were you a nervous starter?
Jeet Raval: I wasn’t really expecting to make my debut to be honest. After the South Africa tour, New Zealand toured India. I wasn’t picked because the coach (Mike Hesson) said I hadn’t been exposed to those conditions since a long time and advised me to stay back home playing domestic cricket.
When the coach announced the playing XI, I thought “Awesome, it’s happening!”. The first day was rained off so those two nights were absolutely terrible sleeping! We bowled on a good, spicy wicket and one of my good mates, Colin de Grandhomme, also made his debut in the same game.
It was nice to have him alongside me because we have played together for Auckland growing up. I also caught a few catches in the slip so I felt a part of the team straightaway and it boosted my confidence. I felt I belonged to the top-tier.
SK: You averaged around 38 in your first 17 Tests before the home series against Bangladesh and were scoring steadily at the top but a century continued to elude you. Was there pressure to score your maiden century?
Jeet Raval: Not from the team at all! The team was really supportive of what I was doing. The New Zealand team is all about how you can contribute to the team and not about individual accolades.
But in the back of my mind, I was always asking “When am I going to score a hundred? Will it ever come?”
When it finally did, I was relieved and it was satisfying. As a batter, you feel you haven’t quite established yourself until you get a hundred.
Jeet Raval: No doubt it was tough. We got tested in every single department. That put us in constant pressure. We were pushed to our limits but most of us learnt a lot of lessons out of that.
Personally, yeah look, I struggled. There’s no doubt about that. I hadn’t got a score under my belt playing against England before that tour. So there were already a lot of speculations about my spot and these things start creeping up in your head which they normally shouldn't.
You then start doubting yourself and put too much pressure. I felt I was trying too hard and was tensed up too much, which at the time, was hard to get out of even though you know you should relax.
I was mentally exhausted having those sleepless nights. Even when you are out for a dinner with your wife, at the back of your mind you’re always thinking of cricket. When you’re doing well, you hardly think about cricket because everything’s falling in place.
SK: After twin scores of 1 in the first Test in Perth, could you foresee yourself being dropped for the Boxing Day Test?
Jeet Raval: Yeah I would be lying if I said I wasn’t. New Zealand hadn’t played a Boxing Day Test in 33 years and back home, it was a big thing. There was a lot of speculation over who should play and who shouldn’t. I knew I hadn’t lived up to expectations so yeah I saw it coming.
SK: Did you read too much into what the media and fans were saying at the time?
Jeet Raval: I try to block it out as much as I can. For me, it is all about doing what I do and not control things that are outside of my control otherwise I am only adding more pressure on myself.
SK: How did you respond to Mitchell Starc’s sledging? How did you look to keep your calm?
Jeet Raval: I don’t get involved in verbal battles because it’s just not my personality. I never judge anybody on the cricket field because they are allowed to do whatever they want to do.
For me, it was important to stay in my bubble and play each ball as well as I could. I don’t hold anything against anybody because that’s who they are. He’s a great bowler and he got the better of me and I would love to give it another crack sometime.
Jeet Raval: After the first Test, when we got back to the hotel and were having dinner, Kane (Williamson) was in the same room. He saw I was quite down and asked me:
“How are you doing bro?”
I said, yeah, obviously I am struggling and I haven’t been my best, which is frustrating. He told me two things:
"One, to let everything go. Let myself go, have fun, play a bit of golf and take my mind off cricket. Second, when I am playing in another Test or simply batting in the nets next time, I should just bat as if it’s a T20 game and let myself go."
In 5-10 years’ time, nothing is going to matter so don’t hold on to things too tightly.
SK: Due to several injuries in the squad, New Zealand made wholesale changes for the New Year’s Test. While you replaced Kane Williamson, did you think of his words and consider the game as a last chance for you?
Jeet Raval: When I got to play in Sydney, those 31 runs I scored were the most memorable runs I had ever scored. I was thinking of Kane’s words and was enjoying myself out there. I didn’t think of anything else and played with freedom.
It was like a 14-year-old me playing gully cricket in India, hitting the ball with no expectations.
SK: When you returned home from such a taxing tour, did you switch yourself off completely from cricket?
Jeet Raval: I had a couple of weeks off with the Super Smash on. I played a few club games to relax and have fun. People around me were so supportive, understanding where I was coming from.
They weren’t treating me as Jeet Raval from the BLACKCAPS but simply as Jeet Raval their friend. It was good for me because sometimes when you’re playing International cricket, you get caught up on the high life or the bubble, which isn’t good, so it was nice to come outside that bubble and experience normality.
Cricket is the one thing I do but I am also a husband, a son, a brother and I am also studying accounts. So there are a lot of parts of me that are important as well. Not dwelling on cricket alone helped me relax.
SK: With the final Plunket Shield rounds getting cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic, there may not be a lot of cricket for you to play in between. Also, this being a T20 World Cup year, New Zealand may not play any Tests. How do you plan on plotting your comeback trail?
Jeet Raval: I wasn’t thinking about getting back into the Test side (through the Plunket Shield rounds). For me, it is all about becoming a better player. I am focused on playing a brand of cricket I wanted to. Even if I wasn’t putting up performances in the domestic games, I could feel the rhythm coming back. Hopefully I can build on it when the next season starts in October-November.
As of now, there’s a 3-4-month period when we train indoors with coaches, working on the skills we want to improve on. I do want to play Test cricket again because I feel there is some unfinished business left. I do want to get back but not through trying too hard. I want to play how I played in Sydney.
SK: Are you looking to break into the one-day side to further your international opportunities?
Jeet Raval: A part of me does want to play one-day cricket. My goal is to play the 2023 World Cup in India. I still have 2-3 years, so it will all be about how well I prepare domestically, put up some good numbers on board and then get into contention for a spot in the side.
It is about finding out the formula and defining the role I would need to play in one-day internationals. Having goals is important but at the same time, you don’t want to get too ahead of yourself. One step at a time.
SK: What transformation would it require you to make the switch between formats? Is it technical or just mental preparation?
Jeet Raval: A lot of guys who have played all around the world are very good at being able to switch between formats. It’s a mix of both. I have always been a Test cricketer but now that I have been out of the side, I feel I can play one-day cricket too. I have scored a few big hundreds for Auckland and that has given me a lot of confidence that I can score at a good tempo.