India vs Afghanistan 2018: A day at the Team India office for GenNext pacers
Forever known to be a spin-dominant line-up, the Indian team's fast bowling department has been growing steadily over the past few years. A new generation of pacers are quickly emerging, and the latest additions to the Indian team's practice session ahead of the one-off against Afghanistan in Bengaluru could very well be a peek into the future.
A story goes that Navdeep Saini was hailed as a 'rare talent' by Gautam Gambhir after watching him bowl for only 15 minutes. Five years after making his first-class debut, Saini was drafted into the Indian Test squad, just days before the one-off Test against Afghanistan.
The very next morning, he joined the Indian team for their second practice session ahead of the historic game and was one of the first players to emerge from the pavilion. Along with him were two other promising pacers, Mohammed Siraj and Rajneesh Gurbani.
Alongside Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur (later joined by Ishant Sharma), and under the watchful eyes of trainer Shanker Basu, the new generation of pacers warmed up on the Chinnaswamy greens, below clear skies, in stark contrast to the dark, rain-filled clouds that had welcomed the team yesterday.
After the initial warm-up, the side shifted to the National Cricket Academy ground, where the players took their positions in the nets and went about in similar fashion to the first day of practice.
The three have had contrasting stories in the IPL this year; while Siraj played 11 games for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Saini didn't get a single game for them. Gurbani was unsold in the auctions.
In the domestic circuit, the three have been consistently performing well - Saini was the leading wicket-taker for Delhi in the Ranji last season, picking up 34 wickets from eight games. Siraj has, so far, picked up 57 wickets from 15 first-class games for Hyderabad, while Gurbani had a breakout season last year, becoming only the second bowler to take a hat-trick in a Ranji final.
Of the three, Siraj is the only bowler to have played international cricket, having made his T20I debut for India last year.
Saini, Siraj, and Gurbani joined the rest of the team a while after the net session started, and spent the first 45 minutes observing their more established seniors ply their trade in one of the nets. Saini had a chat with bowling coach Bharath Arun, after which he loosened up and joined Gurbani and Siraj in observing the Indian pacers.
When the combination of Ishant, Shardul, and Umesh took rest, the young trio replaced them and was later joined by Hardik Pandya. Together, they consistently got their lengths right, which could have done their confidence a world of good.
It has been an incredible journey for Saini; while he might not make it to the playing XI this time, he, along with Siraj and Gurbani, could well be the future of India's pace battery.