It was a little over five years and six months ago that Indian pacer Varun Aaron last put on the national jersey. Since that match against South Africa in Bengaluru, the speedster has captained MS Dhoni in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, turned out for three IPL teams, and bowled his heart out throughout - while also battling multiple injuries and sicknesses.
As unfortunate as it seems, Aaron's stop-start career has been riddled with obstacles of different shapes and sizes. He has had a bunch of stress fractures, bouts of illness and a lot of time spent in the confines of hospital walls.
But the 31-year-old pacer is nowhere close to giving up on his quest of making an Indian team comeback. In a recent exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Aaron shed light on his struggles with injuries, making a comeback to the national side and more.
"I totally feel that I can play the longest format for India," Aaron said. "If you are bowling fast, you've to bowl fast from the first spell till the end of your last spell. I feel you're considered a fast bowler if your average for the whole Test match is about 140+, which means you've to constantly be operating in the high 145s. I've just put in a lot of work, I don’t doubt I can do it. I know I will do it, but it’s just a matter of time."
In these times of the pandemic, athletes have frequently complained about the challenges of the bio-bubble, lack of match practice and several other things that have disoriented their state of mind. And Aaron's struggles on the fitness front have been well-documented; the pacer has missed out on a major chunk of the action because of the numerous hours he's had to spend in hospital beds.
While those aspects could have easily deterred any cricketer from keeping themselves motivated, Aaron feels the injuries and the time to understand his body have instead enabled him to become a better version of himself. The pacer also declared that he is committed to continue doing what he knows best: bowl fast.
"As a person I am all or nothing, I don't like to be in between," Aaron said. "I would bowl as fast as I could or I would not bowl at all. Not bowl at all has not crossed my mind because I know I have not achieved my full potential when it comes to fast bowling. I have been hit by these injuries and every time I pick up rhythm and I’m doing well, something unfortunate happens."
"But these are uncontrollables and whatever has happened till now has made me a stronger individual, it has made me understand the human angle of the game and of life as well which is important. Such stuff is more lasting but at the same time I am passionate about bowling fast. I enjoy doing it."
When quizzed about why he loves to run in and bowl rockets at the best in the world, Aaron eloquently explained what part of fast bowling makes him tick.
"When the keeper is standing near the 30-yard circle and collects the ball at his chest, there's no better feeling than that," the 31-year-old said. "I can't imagine myself running in and the keeper standing up to the stumps, that would be pathetic. I can never play cricket like that, that would be disappointing."
Aaron was in terrific form for Jharkhand in the Vijay Hazare Trophy that was conducted earlier this year. In four matches, he scalped nine wickets at an economy rate of 6.90 and an average of a shade over 20.
One of his standout performances was in Jharkhand's first match of the season against Madhya Pradesh, where Aaron picked up figures of 6/37 in just 5.4 overs. That his wickets included five caught-behind dismissals further highlighted Aaron's tremendous rhythm with the ball.
Looking back at the tournament, Aaron revealed he has been happy with his form but then lamented the absence of a proper platform to showcase his skills.
"If I had to slow down, I would have after eight stress fractures. I don’t think I am slowing down, I am bowling at my best at the moment, but it’s just ironic that this year there is no platform to showcase it. Against MP, I picked up 5 wickets in 6 overs. If you are not bowling well, then you wouldn’t come up with such figures."
"I am really enjoying my cricket, I am bowling at my best skill level. I have understood a lot about my body which I didn’t understand before just because of the amount of injuries I’ve had, the number of times I’ve had to remodel my action. So you get a deeper understanding of sport and of the art overall."
"India is the only place where if you're above 30, you can't do certain things" - Varun Aaron
In recent times, social media has been divided on the topic of age as a factor to decide a cricketer's entry or return to the national fold. As recently as a few weeks back, seasoned pacer Jaydev Unadkat was in the news after reports emerged that his age (34) was the reason why selectors have continuously overlooked him.
For Varun Aaron, however, age has never been a mental barrier. To illustrate that point, the pacer drew parallels with cricketers outside the country who peaked in skill once they crossed the age of 30.
"I am 31, but I don’t feel I am 31. In the last 10 years, I’ve lost 3-4 years to injury. So mentally and physically, I am 26 or 27. If I was continuously playing for 10 years, I would probably think I was old. That’s the problem nowadays. Many international players are playing at their best when they are 35-36 and it boils down to self-motivation, discipline and how hard you can train."
"I feel India is the only place where if you are 30, you can’t do certain things. I don’t see that happening in other countries. Michael Hussey played for Australia after 30, Anderson is still playing, he’s 38, nobody raises a question. There’s no reason why a well trained sportsman cannot perform after 30. I am training harder than ever, there’s no reason why I should be fit enough."
"Virat called it before anyone with the fitness drive" - Varun Aaron on Indian captain
Varun Aaron made his international debut in the ODI and Test formats under MS Dhoni, but his most recent 50-over international and Test appearances came under Virat Kohli's leadership.
Back in December 2020, the speedster mentioned that his favorite captain was Kohli, and for no small reason. Kohli's insistence on being aggressive and playing with a winning mentality is the reason why Aaron picked Kohli without batting an eyelid.
While fielding a query about how Kohli has transformed India into a Test behemoth, Aaron elucidated the Indian skipper's fitness push as a galvanizing factor within the team.
"I feel Virat called it before anybody else with the whole fitness thing. Not taking anything else away from him, his captaincy, drive and leadership is well documented, but his whole push to make the team a lot fitter and putting in more work has helped the team find a common cause in that. Any great time always has a common cause."
"With players playing at the highest level, most players are individuals in their own right. At the junior levels, the coach has a say but at the international level now there are two binding factors. No.1 is winning and No.2 is now the fitness thing which is great because guys last longer, they play harder and we go into every tournament as favourites."
At 31, Aaron is still sticking to his guns, trying to ensure that he keeps following the mantra that has brought him immense success over the years. Take a deep breath, run in and bowl fast. Extremely fast.
Sure, the pacer might have had to visit the doctor a lot more than he would have liked. But if the man's words are to be believed, there's absolutely nothing that's going to stop Varun Aaron from ultimately reaching his goal - making a comeback to the Indian team and soaking in the atmosphere as he runs in to set fear in the minds of the world's best batsmen.
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