The 28-year-old has been backed by the Indian team management to create an impact through his searing pace in the third Test of the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
Navdeep Saini had competition for his place in the playing XI with the likes of Shardul Thakur and T Natarajan hovering around. Some still believe the other two were better options than the tall pacer. However, triumphing against all odds and proving his critics wrong has been in the DNA of this lad from Haryana.
The right-armer has always shown fierce determination and will to compete against the very best. Coming from a humble background, he knows there is no alternative to hard work.
What made Saini the accomplished pacer he is today? Who spotted his talent and gave him the opportunity on the big stage? How was his journey from playing in a small village in Haryana to representing his country in a white jersey in front of thousands in Sydney? His story is truly one to savour for all cricket lovers.
The humble beginnings of Navdeep Saini
In his early days, Navdeep Saini was like any other cricket-loving child - carefree - and playing to his heart's content with his brother and friends at a rice mill in his village in Karnal. He possibly never dreamt that he would one day be playing cricket professionally, as he did not have the financial backing.
Saini's father, Amarjeet Singh, was a bus driver with the Haryana Government. His family couldn't gather enough money to buy him a cricket kit or enroll him in a local cricketing academy. Thus, he grew up playing tennis-ball cricket in local tournaments.
The influence of Sumit Narwal and Gautam Gambhir
One such tournament named the Karnal Premier League was arranged by former Delhi all-rounder Sumit Narwal. The fees for the tournament trials was INR 400, and Navdeep Saini had to fight with his father to arrange for the money. The youngster impressed Narwal in the trials and was asked to join the academy.
However, Navdeep Saini didn't reveal the fact that he didn't have enough money to pursue his dream. He came back in the next edition of the tournament and again caught the eye of the former Delhi all-rounder. This time though, Saini had to confess that he didn't have enough money.
Nevertheless, Narwal recognised Navdeep Saini's potential and began grooming the youngster at the Karan Stadium in Karnal. One day, he asked the young pacer to join him at the net session of the Delhi Ranji Trophy team. Seeing this as a potential opportunity to meet Indian stars, Navdeep Saini readily agreed to participate as a net bowler.
Bowling to the then Indian opener and Delhi captain Gautam Gambhir was the turning point of the young Navdeep Saini's career.
He impressed Gambhir to the extent that the latter persuaded the DDCA to let Saini into Delhi's Ranji Trophy team. That was when the youngster realised that he could play cricket professionally. He began to believe that he had the talent to be successful at the highest level.
However, the DDCA termed Navdeep Saini as an 'outsider' and refused to listen to Gambhir's advice. That led to a massive altercation between the then Delhi skipper and the DDCA. Eventually, Gambhir had his way, and Saini got a chance in Delhi's Ranji Trophy team.
Navdeep Saini's Ranji Trophy adventure
On December 14, 2013, a 21-year-old Navdeep Saini made his first-class debut for Delhi against Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy and picked up a couple of wickets in their emphatic win. Although he continued to remain a part of Delhi's team, he was always seen as an outsider who was taking up the spot of a local lad.
With the pacer continuing to face intense scrutiny, Gambhir had a showdown with Delhi's coach KP Bhaskar, which saw the left-handed batsman get a four-match ban and also lose his captaincy to a young Rishabh Pant the next year.
Navdeep Saini knew that Gambhir had done all he could to keep the pacer's place in the Delhi team, and it was now up to the bowler to deliver consistent performances to justify his selection.
The breakthrough season eventually happened as Navdeep Saini's brilliance saw Delhi make it to the final of the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy. Picking up 34 wickets in just eight games, he was a key bowler for Delhi.
His best performance of the season came in the semi-final against Bengal in Pune, where he bagged figures of 7-90. Delhi had a lead of 112 runs going into the second innings, when Navdeep Saini, with his raw pace coupled with deadly reverse swing, ran through Bengal's batting order and helped his team to an innings victory.
Navdeep Saini's heroics in the Ranji Trophy saw him receive his maiden India call-up for the one-off Test against Afghanistan in June 2018. Although he did not make his Test debut there, he got a great feel of international cricket by being a part of the Indian dressing room.
An impressive IPL season with RCB
Impressive performances in the Vijay Hazare Trophy saw Navdeep Saini get retained by the Royal Challengers Bangalore ahead of the IPL 2019 auction for a whopping INR 3 crores. Although he was a part of the Delhi Daredevils squad in the earlier editions, Saini was yet to make his IPL debut.
The then 26-year-old produced a fine debut season in IPL 2019, picking up 11 wickets in 13 games at a decent average of 8.27. His performances impressed RCB skipper Virat Kohli, and in no time, Saini received his maiden international cap for India.
Navdeep Saini makes a memorable international debut
The tall pacer made his T20I debut against West Indies in Lauderhill on August 3, 2019, picking up the Man of the Match award with figures of 3-17.
Injuries to the team's regular bowlers saw Navdeep Saini make his ODI debut as well towards the end of that year against the same opposition in Cuttack. The youngster left his mark on the game by picking up two wickets, including a snorter that disturbed all-rounder Roston Chase's furniture.
Gradually, Navdeep Saini became a regular in India's white-ball team, where he produced consistent performances. While he has been nothing short of fabulous in the shortest format of the game, picking up 13 wickets in ten T20Is, he has got a bit of a pasting in one-day cricket lately.
In the two ODIs that Navdeep Saini played in India's ongoing tour down under, he picked up a solitary wicket. The pacer was taken to the cleaners by the Australian batsmen, especially Glenn Maxwell, and had an appalling bowling average of 153. He did not get a look in the Indian team for the rest of the limited-overs leg.
Can Navdeep Saini have his moment of redemption at the SCG?
A calf injury to Umesh Yadav has given Navdeep Saini the chance to redeem himself down under.
The 28-year-old was impressive in the practice games against Australia A. Delhi's former bowling coach Sanjeev Sharma believes that Navdeep Saini has all the ingredients to have a successful Test career, and his extra pace could be handy at the SCG.
In 46 first-class games so far, Navdeep Saini has picked up 128 wickets at an impressive average of 28.46. Now, an opportunity to set his record straight in Australia beckons.
It is now upto the lad from Karnal to make a wicket-taking debut in the longest format of the game and help Team India retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
The stage is all set for Navdeep Saini to redeem himself at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).Published 07 Jan 2021, 02:14 IST