Interview: "One good ball is needed to dismiss an in-form player, don’t you think I have the upper edge?" asks Ishan Porel
The 18-year-old has been part of the Indian U-19 squad as well as CAB XI which won the Cooch Behar under-19 trophy.
It is indeed intriguing to analyse the psyche of an individual who has bid to stray away from conventions in his path to greatness. By refusing to be drawn into the common world and its rituals, he already has given hints of his strong mettle and determined character. These beings, not surprisingly, stand out for their tough choices, wherein their efforts are applauded twice as much; their struggles appreciated and remembered ever more.
It is maybe for this reason that Australian spin wizard Shane Warne managed to carve out his own legacy from the plethora of the very successful fast bowlers that he has played with. For someone like Kapil Dev or Javagal Srinath, to ditch the route towards spin bowling and instead practice with longer run ups and faster deliveries, remains a stupendous task in itself.
The increasing trend of high scoring runs in recent cricket matches in India have unfortunately led to heightened scrutiny of the bowlers in the country, with the pace bowlers, especially, being chided for their death over antics.
In this day and age, where cricket is already converting into a batsman’s game with flat pitches galore, the younger and upcoming fast bowlers from India deserve tremendous support for opting for a journey that they know will be anything but easy.
Ishan Porel: a young colt refusing to be intimidated by the many challenges
Once such young player is Bengal pacer Ishan Porel, who was a part of the Bengal team that finished second best in the recently concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy. The colt, who has been termed as one of the fastest bowlers in the Indian circuit, in a chat with Sportskeeda, reflects upon these very challenges a fast bowler is expected to face, exuding a calm confidence in his abilities to conquer hurdles.
”As a fast bowler, the high scores and the flat pitches are intimidating, to be honest. But rather than being scared by this from the very onset, I love to look at it as a learning process. As a fast bowler in India, you have to develop your bowling to succeed at the highest level. You have to learn how and where to pitch the deliveries, especially in the death overs. I have to master the art of bowling the accurate yorkers in T20s and ODI cricket, after which the pressure on me will reduce.”
The lanky 18-year-old was hand-picked by none other than Rahul Dravid in the India under-19 squad that faced England a month ago, playing two games in the five-match series, ending up with figures of 2/33 and 2/25 respectively.
“I was expecting the call but I was not very sure. In the last few games, I have been trying to give my best to the team so maybe that impressed the selectors”, attributing his selection in the Indian team to his consistent performance in the last six months that began with his maiden five-wicket haul against Karnataka State Cricket Association Colts XI to a match-winning effort of 3/23, where Porel, along with Dinda in tandem, helped CAB XI rattle out KSCA XI for just 130 runs in the title clash of the KSCA Dr. K Thimmappiah Memorial cricket tournament.
“Even in the U-19 Cooch Behar Trophy, I thought I was pitching the ball in the right areas. I thought I had bowled well in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and even the finals, but I was not very sure if the selectors thought similarly.” Bengal clinched the title, with Porel bagging crucial wickets.
After having suffered an unfortunate side strain in his left upper abdomen that delayed his Ranji Trophy debut for Bengal, Porel finally made his List A debut for his state against Andhra Pradesh in the Vijay Hazare Trophy last week, picking up 1/43 with an impressive economy of 4.77. He ended up playing two more games for his state, picking up 1/35 against Rajasthan and going wicketless against Gujarat.
A sporting background and early days
Belonging to a sporting family, where his father, grandfather and uncle all played kabaddi, it was inevitable for Porel to switch to sports from a very young age. Even though he used to play cricket locally, he took to swimming when he was ten years of age. “It is then that I realised that I should play cricket. That is where my heart lay and I decided that enrolling in a coaching camp should be the next step for me as I was really determined and focused on playing cricket.”
His first coaching camp in Chandannagar, a district on the banks of the river Hoogly, was the National Sporting Club, where he was introduced to the world of fast bowling. “It was the selectors in the preparatory camp who urged me to take up fast bowling. I was a batsman who had grown up batting with the tennis ball and I joined the NSC to work upon my batting. But my coaches, Pradip Mondal and Ashish De, suggested I might be more successful as a pacer due to my height.”
As practice became more rigorous and studies started taking a toll, Porel had to choose between the two. After much deliberation and with the constant support of his family members, he shifted to Calcutta and joined the Utpal Chatterjee Cricket Academy. It was here that he became aware of the struggles and the hours of hard work an average player had to dedicate in order to play cricket professionally.
“When I was younger, I did not know much about training sessions and the importance it held. Later, in Calcutta, I realised the difficulties a player has to endure to play cricket at a higher level. But I was blessed with very good facilities, and had a group of amazing coaches like Bibhas Das, and I did not want to let go of this opportunity. They made a weekly schedule of my workout regime, my diet and training sessions and I ensured that it was followed very rigorously.”
“The under 16 days really taught me the importance of hard work”
By his own admission, Porel was not very mature when he was selected in the under-13 line-up for Bengal. He had to sit out of the initial matches in the under-16 Vijay Merchant Trophy, and the three games he missed out gave him a harsh reality check.
“By then, I had thought I was making steady progress and that my journey seemed smooth. But when I was not selected in the playing eleven for the first three matches, I realised that you might be good, yet not worthy enough. That phase really inspired me to get better. I wanted to play and was not satisfied with only being in the squad of fifteen.
“My first match in that tournament was against the Assam under-16 team. Even though I did not get a wicket, I was really pleased with my bowling. It showed me that maybe I belonged here.” He bagged four wickets in the pre-quarter finals against Maharashtra and since then became a regular in the colt circuit.
“Even if a batsman has scored a hundred in the last game, cricket remains a game of one delivery”
Move the conversation towards Porel’s bowling, and the lanky pacer sits up excitedly, exuding a relaxed confidence, which has seemed to engulf the upcoming youngsters in India. Gone are the days when a novice remained nervous about his abilities around established or in-form players. From Manish Pandey to Rishabh Pant to Sarfaraz Khan, each player has refused to remain bogged down amidst superstars and this mentality remains evident in Porel as well.
When asked if bowling against in-form players seems an added challenge to Porel, a curt reply is all that follows. “No!” Upon further prodding, he continues. “I consciously refrain from thinking of the batsman I am bowling to. I focus on myself and what the team’s plans are and accordingly decide on my deliveries. Even if he has scored a century in the last game, I know that cricket is a game of just one delivery. One good ball is needed to dismiss an in-form player. Don’t you think I have the upper edge in this batsman’s game?”
There is no escaping the deep grin as one remains amazed and pleasantly surprised at the positive attitude being imbibed by the cricketers from a very young age.
Just as one starts to fathom the maturity in an 18-year-old, talks steer towards Rahul Dravid and his experience of being coached by him. Was he overawed by the lingering presence of a stalwart? “Even though I had met him before when I was selected for the under-16 National Cricket Academy camp in Bengaluru, I was excited, obviously. But more than being overawed by emotions and his presence, I was nervous, as it was my first call up for the country. I wanted to focus on my performance and was eager to leave a mark.”
Even before asking Porel who his childhood heroes were, he has started discussing about the role, Brett Lee, and more recently, Mohammad Shami, have played in his life. “I was greatly inspired by the speed with which Brett Lee would bowl his deliveries and deceive the batsmen with such dominance. I always wanted to bowl as fast as him, and to be called one of the fastest bowlers in the junior level is really motivating.
“I recently shared the dressing room with Shami bhai in the Bengal side and it was a huge learning curve for me. Watching him bowl the accurate yorkers in the practice sessions and then executing them to plan, whilst recuperating from an injury, has been one of the highlights of my career.”
Turning to his well-aimed bouncers in pressure situations, Porel has set his eyes firmly on touching the 150kmph mark. Although he is aware that to bowl at such speeds on a regular basis, a good physique, coupled with extra hours of training and a well-balanced diet is necessary, the youngster is confident that with the right advice, the feat can be scaled.
Influence of Dinda and Waqar Younis
Having constantly played with Indian pacer Ashok Dinda in the domestic matches for Bengal, Porel states that the senior most bowler from Bengal has constantly talked him into remaining mentally strong in pressure situations. “Dinda da has given me invaluable tips on how to bowl and plan to the toughest batsman while Manni bhaiyya (Manoj Tiwary) remains a pretty gutsy player. Playing under his captaincy has made me figure out that he trusts his cricket and has no fear while walking out to the crease.”
“Along with Pragyan Ojha, these three cricketers have taught me a lot about their highs and how to handle the lows that come your way with dignity.”
However, his greatest moment was when he was introduced to Waqar Younis, who has been overseeing the Cricket Association of Bengal’s ambitious “Vision 2020” which aims to scout and supply a horde of national team players.
“Waqar Sir taught me that if I have confidence in my pace then I should go for it without fear. He asked me to develop my upper body muscles so that I can bowl fast regularly. He enquired about my injury to my left knee, which had seen me miss cricket for 5 months and remained highly impressed with my recovery schedule.”
Although he has not had much interaction with Sourav Ganguly, he mentions how the ‘Prince of Calcutta’ welcomed the squad after the triumph at the KSCA Tournament and the Cooch Behar under-19 trophy. “Dada welcomed us to Eden Gardens after the twin wins and really inspired us to keep up our good work.”
Refusing to look too far ahead, Porel has his sights on improving his performance match by match. “I still haven’t reached that stage yet where I can say that yes, I am solely responsible for my team’s win. I want to keep dishing out performances that I can be proud of and the rest will follow,” signs off the player as he readies himself for a gruelling gym session ahead.